In the American education system, the majority of public school teachers are white at a time when racial and ethnic minorities account for the vast majority of U.S. population growth. In Seattle Public Schools, for instance, 57 percent of students come from minority backgrounds while only 21 percent of their teachers do.
Seattle Pacific University graduate students Amber Frazier and Ricky Dos Remedios want to be teachers and role models for today’s students — and to help rectify the minority teacher imbalance. They are SPU’s first Martinez Fellows, and are supported by scholarships from the Martinez Foundation, regular mentoring, and ongoing professional development to help ensure their teaching success.
Started in 2008 by former Major League Baseball all-star Edgar Martinez and his wife, Holli Beeler Martinez ’91, the Martinez Foundation assists students of color in becoming exceptional teachers so that they, in turn, can inspire the ethnically diverse students in their classrooms.
“Amber’s and Ricky’s high character, passion, and hard work make them great role models,” says Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Jorge Preciado, who helps facilitate the program at SPU along with Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Tracy Williams. “Amber is an African-American teaching high school physics at a time when a very low representation of African-American students succeed in high school science,” says Preciado. “Ricky teaches K–5 special education students, an area in which minority students are over-represented.” Both teachers are well-positioned to change students’ lives, and the Martinez Foundation’s 92-percent teacher retention rate suggests they’ll stay in the classroom, doing just that for years to come.
Preciado places the credit for the University’s partnership with the Martinez Foundation on SPU’s commitment to attract more students of color who wish to become teachers and help eliminate the achievement gap in Washington Public Schools. “It sends a clear message to communities of color,” he says. “We are interested in your students.”
Until junior high school, Amber Frazier was an aspiring OB-GYN. It was at SPU that mathematics and physics took possession of her imagination — and her future plans. A 2013 physics graduate, she is the second of 28 cousins to go to college and gain a bachelor’s degree.
“People advocated on my behalf all the way,” says Frazier, who is now earning her teaching certificate at Seattle Pacific along with a master’s degree in teaching mathematics and science. “SPU and the Martinez Fellowship are making possible more than a scholarship. This is lifetime support.”
She says one reason ethnically diverse students struggle academically is that they often have no teachers with whom they can culturally relate.
The 21 Martinez Fellows in her cohort, all future teachers of color, are student teaching in eight schools. They can contact mentor teachers anytime with questions and concerns. They attend quarterly full-day seminars on teaching in high-need environments and an annual weekend institute in effective classroom leadership.
Frazier is teaching at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School. Seeing her at the front of the classroom reassures minority students that they can “realize their full potential,” as Frazier puts it, and that education is their ticket to doing so.
Ricky Dos Remedios
Ricky Dos Remedios admits to having occasional bad days in the special education classroom at Tukwila’s Thorndyke Elementary School, where he is a paraeducator for children with learning disabilities.
It is then he often turns to the Martinez Foundation mentors to talk him through. “They help me improve my technique,” he says. “Their concern, and the knowledge that the Foundation is there to promote teachers of color like me, keep me inspired.”
As a child in Weed, California, Dos Remedios was comfortable with the town’s diverse ethnic mix. But when his family moved to Port Angeles, Washington, the sixth grader experienced culture shock in a largely white community.
Fortunately, academics came easily for him. But in high school and college, he had no clear direction for a career. A variety of jobs from construction to sales came and went. Working as a freelance musician, Dos Remedios began helping out in his daughter’s preschool co-op twice a week. He experienced a natural rapport with the children, and later became a reading interventionist in Seattle.
Now, his career goals are clear. “I applied to SPU after working as a paraeducator for four years just to make sure I wanted to be a teacher and could handle the school environment,” Dos Remedios says.
The Alternative Routes to Certification/Master of Arts in Teaching graduate program at SPU meets his needs. The resources of the Martinez Foundation provide both scholarship funds and additional job placement help. His goal: “My own special education classroom by the fall of 2014.”
Are you interested in becoming one of SPU’s next Martinez Fellows? Apply by June 15, 2014, at spu.edu/martinez.