CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The latest Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and graduation rates from the state show many African-American students are lagging behind in school.

Diversity has been a long-standing issue in both Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville, and now educators are calling for it to be a larger priority.

On Friday, October 5, the African American Teaching Fellows (AATF) held the 8th annual John E. Baker Legacy Dinner as a fundraiser for the program, which gives scholarships and development tools for prospective teachers of color who agree to teach in either city or county schools.

Marian McCullough has a tight bond with her students at Woodbrook Elementary.

The University of Virginia Curry School graduate says being an African American Teaching Fellow helped show her the way.

“To me, it was really important to think about not only my profession as an educator, but as an African-American educator,” McCullough said. “Especially what it means to be an African-American educator and to connect with students who might otherwise feel left out or otherwise feel missed in the classroom."

The AATF program recruits teachers of color and gives them professional development tools if they commit to teach in Albemarle County or Charlottesville.

“For me, the fellows program was really a way to get more leadership training and more professional development about how to be a young black professional in the world and how to be an educator for students of color and otherwise,” McCullough said.

Current statistics show only one teacher for every 12 students, but the ratio of teachers of color to students is one to 122.

Many think that could be one factor in the lagging graduation rates and SOL test scores among African-American students.

“I think for some students it's really the opportunity to see someone who looks like them in a position of education within a system that sometimes feels really daunting, especially if you're coming from a background where maybe you don't get the support that other people view as really important,” McCullough said.

McCullough believes representation matters. As a fellow, she learned diversity is important to not just students of color, but everyone in the classroom.

“Students from all backgrounds need to see diverse teachers, and school is where they are for most of their time, so to have these role models in schools is really important,” Tamara Dias, the executive director of AATF, said.

The AATF has placed 42 African-American teachers in classrooms since 2004. But the nonprofit's work is far from finished.

"I don't expect them to fit school, but I really wanna create an experience where it's fitting them,” McCullough said.

Recruitment for the fellows program begins the first week of November.

Friday’s benefit is expected to help fund scholarships for that program.