When an A.L. Brown High School senior first started the Leadership Institute for Future Teachers (LIFT) program, he did not feel confident speaking up about the challenges he was facing and how to tackle them. But after five days in LIFT, he has gained the strength to tackle those challenges and has gained the knowledge to face those obstacles head-on.
“Throughout the week, I learned a lot of things, such as how to use your voice to empower other people around you and how to fix problems that are happening in the schools, such as college and university readiness,” he said. “The LIFT program gave me the strength and skills to tackle my problems and that is what I plan on doing.”
The NC State College of Education held its inaugural Leadership Institute for Future Teachers (LIFT) virtually, July 26-31, 2020. LIFT is a five-day, invitational program for students of color and bilingual students who are rising high school seniors in North Carolina and who are interested in enhancing their leadership skills and exploring a potential career in education.
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“LIFT was established to address the critical need in populating the teacher pipeline with licensed, well-trained educators, particularly students of color, males and bilingual teachers,” said Anona Smith Williams, Ed.D., the College of Education’s associate dean for student success and strategic community engagement and executive director of LIFT. “The increase of Spanish-speaking students in our state’s classrooms presents both an opportunity and an obligation to increase the number of Spanish-speaking people who are attracted into the field of education.”
High school teachers nominated students who they believed had the potential to become extraordinary educators. Thirty-four rising high school seniors from across North Carolina participated in the first cohort of LIFT — 47% were bilingual. The students — all Black, Brown or bilingual — engaged in leadership development activities, brainstormed strategies to implement equity practices in their schools and built connections with other students and educators.
Participants spent the week hearing from educational leaders such as Latanya Pattillo, teacher advisor to the governor; MariaRosa Rangel, director of Family and Community Engagement for the Wake County Public School System; and Rodney Robinson, the 2019 National Teacher of the Year. They also had the opportunity to hear from school administrators and educators from around North Carolina.
“Through our workshops, we explored the differences between equity and equality, focused on the origins of power and, more importantly, learned that we can use our power, influence and authority through our voice, our vote and our presence to impact change for our generation and generations to come,” said a student from Apex Friendship High School.
Participants were divided into groups led by current College of Education students who served as counselors and mentors. Aside from the opportunity to connect with current students, participants were able to learn about various nonprofit organizations that are working in the community to diversity the educational workforce and increase educational access for all students. Those organizations were Profound Gentlemen, we are and LatinxEd.
“I learned so many things throughout the course of the week. I have gained new insight into what it’s like being an educator and I’ve also learned about some of the difficulties within a classroom setting,” said a student from Union High School. “We had wonderful discussions with different educators, college students and the creators of amazing nonprofit organizations. I’ve also made some wonderful new friends along the way. LIFT not only taught me about being a teacher and the difficulties within the classroom, but it also gave me a supportive community full of smart and amazing future teachers that will help make a difference in the classroom.”
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During the closing ceremony, students shared what the week meant to them and the impact it had. One student from Vance County High School recited a poem in Portuguese titled Saudade, a Portuguese word that is used when someone is missing something or someone. He chose that poem, he says, because “I really think that this word can be used to express our feelings today since even though the program isn’t officially over, I’m already missing it and I am pretty sure everyone else is, too.”
The closing ceremony also included an Irish dance performance from one of the participants and a musical selection and spoken word performance from another student.
Following the five-day summer program, the high school seniors will engage in nine months of activities, including an e-mentoring program through which the students will receive continuous virtual mentoring from teachers of color or bilingual teachers.
The NC State College of Education partnered with the North Carolina Central University School of Education, Best NC, Public School Forum and the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program to bring this opportunity to the high school students. Financial sponsors were the NC State University Foundation, Belk Foundation and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.