Teachers take care of more than just their classrooms — they are the linchpin of vital, educated communities. Especially in low-income urban school districts, teachers can provide the skills foundation that will lead to career — and financial — empowerment. To do that, teachers themselves need support. The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools provides it with teacher training and development programs tailored to the needs of the city’s schools, as well as donations of vital classroom supplies.
Oklahoma City Public Schools are made up of a majority of Black and Hispanic/Latino students, and more than 40 languages are spoken by families residing in the district. The Foundation for OKCPS helps recruit and train teachers who mirror this student population through its Bilingual Teacher Pipeline and Diversity Pipeline programs, which are supported by grants from Bank of America. By funding college tuition and other school expenses, these pipeline programs help bilingual and minority paraprofessionals already working in the district become certified teachers. To date, 70 have entered the programs, with five moving from school support roles to teaching careers in the Oklahoma City system.
One of those is Alexiss Lopez, who along with her mother was among the first graduates of the Bilingual Teacher Pipeline Program. A native of Mexico, Lopez was working as an English Language Learner (ELL) assistant at Hawthorne Elementary School, where 88% of students are Hispanic/Latino and many are second-language learners, when her principal encouraged her to apply. “He always had high hopes for me to become a teacher,” Lopez recalls. For three years, she juggled work and college before earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Central Oklahoma. She now teaches kindergarten at Kaiser Elementary, another school with many native Spanish speakers. “Thanks to the program, I’m able to help the students get comfortable with English and find ways to teach them so that they’re not completely lost,” Lopez says.
Hawthorne’s current principal, Melinda Elms, who has seen six of her ELL assistants enter the Bilingual Teacher Pipeline Program, believes the training produces teachers who are especially well-equipped for the rigors of a classroom. “They know exactly what is coming, so when they graduate, they really truly slide into the role with ease,” Elms says. And that’s not the only benefit for her young students. “I love the example it sets for our kids,” she adds. “It’s really great for them to see someone like them working toward a goal.”
The foundation also helps schools recruit and retain experienced teachers. To address the problem of new teachers leaving in their first year, the Foundation offers financial support and strategic guidance to the Urban Teacher Preparation Academy, which offers incoming teachers mentorships and professional development. Plus, a teacher incentive program packages gifts from community partners to thank teachers for their valued service. Bank of America’s financial support for the Foundation of OKCPS is part of the bank’s $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity.