Aquinas College Awarded $900,000 Early Childhood Education Grant

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woman in red blazer

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has awarded Aquinas College $900,000 to address the shortage of qualified teachers of color willing and able to lead area early childhood education classrooms.  

In partnership with Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC), they will pilot Preparing Racially-diverse Educators Program (PREP), a hybrid, cohort program specifically designed to address issues of structural racism and inadequate resources that continue to stifle attempts to recruit and support a ready pipeline of potential teachers of color.

Dr. Susan English will oversee and manage the initiative. As dean of the Aquinas College School of Education, she is qualified and empowered to deploy the resources needed to ensure the success of the project.  

Dr. Nkechy Ezeh, Aquinas College Associate Professor and Founder / Pedagogical Leader of ELNC, will provide oversight for the ELNC components of the project. In 2010, commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Dr. Ezeh conducted current research on children living in the core city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her research and recommendations resulted in a $5 Million grant award to ELNC in 2012. 

“As someone who prepares teachers to teach and learners to learn, I understand the importance of having teachers who more accurately reflect the population of their classrooms. In addition to allowing children to see themselves in future careers, they are more likely to experience a more culturally-based instruction and higher student expectations," said Dr. Ezeh (pictured left). “As we get children ready to learn we must make sure that we have teachers who can teach. Until I was in the position of serving as ELNC pedagogical leader, I never fully understood the impact of the critical shortage of teachers of color and the barriers facing so many potential candidates."

This project will develop organizational strategies that promote a racially equitable delivery system of quality early childhood education and learning opportunities that are specifically aimed at creating and strengthening conditions in which vulnerable children have an equal opportunity to succeed. 

The goal is to produce 60 new, qualified teachers of color during the three-year grant period. Aquinas College will also seek to establish sustainable funding sources that will support the project after the initial three years for fully-funded financial support for teacher candidates for an ongoing pipeline of future teachers of color.

“Part of the core mission of our School of Education is to assess the education landscape and address critical needs,” said Dr. Susan English, dean of the School of Education. “I want to thank the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for identifying the importance of early childhood education in our core communities as a priority.”

The Aquinas College School of Education (AQ SOE) has a strong history of working with community early child education systems such as The Child Discovery Center and the Grand Rapids Public Schools. The School of Education received a $2.5 million federal grant in 2016 to prepare English as a Second Language and Bilingual teachers in Michigan. Additionally, they recently launched a training program to meet the needs of Head Start employees in order to advance success and retention in their field.