CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A central Virginia group that advocates for racial diversity in Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s teaching staff began a four day summit for its protégés Sunday evening . 

The African American Teaching Fellows (AATF) seventh annual summer institute is underway and eight aspiring teachers are in Charlottesville to learn from professionals and perfect their teaching skills. 

Tamara Dias, executive director of AATF, said, “A group of teachers looked around and said this doesn't make sense, our students are so diverse but they can’t go into a school and see themselves in their teachers.”

AATF was founded in Charlottesville fourteen years ago to address this lack of representation.

Dias said, “Students of color, especially African American students, they need to know that things are possible for them and they need to know all of the great possibilities for them.”
“They can’t do that if they walk into a school every day and they don’t see an educator who looks like them or who shares that background,” Dais said.

Dias added that diversity in the student population of Charlottesville and Albemarle County is high, but amongst teachers it's lacking.

Since 2004, the non-profit has assisted 35 African Americans in becoming teachers in Charlottesville and Albemarle. Of the 35 AATF fellows, most are recent college graduates, but some switched from different careers, like Lanika Barnes.

“One of the things I definitely hope to garner from my participation as an AATF fellow are lifelong relationships, lifelong learning experiences and just to continue to grow as an educator,” Lanika Barnes said. 

This year, eight fellows are taking part in AATF’s seventh annual summer institute.
For the first time ever, New York based organization, Black Teacher Project, has partnered with AATF to help prepare these young educators.

Dias said, “We’re actually going to focus on self-care and sustainability, which is something that we’re very passionate about.”

Over the next few days the fellows will refine their teaching skills and network with program alums. 

“I hope that our fellows leave here knowing that there is a group of people that not only wants to see them succeed but is willing to support them throughout their journey and education,” Dias said.

This program is set to run through Wednesday. Organizers say they hope to partner Black Teacher Project again for future programs.