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Golden Apple Moments

Martinez Fellows Program Nurtures All-Star Minority Teachers

March 1, 2016
In a classroom in Kent, Wash., something rare is about to happen. Teacher Angelica Sauceda is going to share the force of Newton’s second law, which in turn will set learning in motion. “So you’ve got the force in there,” Sauceda explains to a student who is frowning at a graph. “You’ve got the mass in there. What are you missing?” The lights go on and the student says, “Acceleration!”
 
What’s unusual about this moment is not that most of Sauceda’s kids are students of color, but that she is too. 
 
Students of color now make up 40 percent of the K–12 population in Washington State, but 90 percent of teachers are white. That’s a problem, according to a 2015 report issued by the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight Committee — a problem because kids learn best from a teacher they can relate to; a teacher who employs culturally relevant teaching practices.
 
Edgar and Holli Martinez.Seattle Mariners slugger Edgar Martinez and his wife Holli became aware of the shortage of minority teachers after they both went back to school following Edgar’s retirement from baseball. In 2008, they decided to start a foundation to encourage diversity in teaching. Over the years their mission crystallized: the Martinez Foundation aimed to increase the number of teachers of color in our schools and to support them throughout their teaching career.
 
“In order to be a Martinez Fellow, you have to be a student of color who has been accepted into one of our nine partner university master of teaching programs,” explains Ian Adair, the former executive director at the Martinez Foundation. The program helps fellows pay for their master’s degrees. But that’s just the beginning. The fellows promise to teach in a Washington public school with a high minority population — and often high poverty — for at least three years. 
 
“Most of us want to be in those schools, most of us want to be in schools where we grew up,” says Carlito Umali, a Filipino middle school teacher who speaks the “language” of his community. “There’s this subtle language of culture: How I address your parents, how I acknowledge your family. And that’s something that you can’t teach in school. It’s something that you just have to be born into.”
 
Martinez fellow Carlito Umalil teaching a class.
 
Not that it has been easy for Umali. The emotions and difficulties of those first years in the classroom have been a challenge, but the assistance he gets as a Martinez Fellow, including professional development seminars, have helped him “refill.”
 
In fact, supporting those critical first years as a teacher became the most important work of the Martinez Fellows Program. Because half of fledging teachers don’t succeed.
 
“With all new teachers, not just teachers of color, 30 percent leave the profession in the first three years,” says Adair. “By the fifth year, close to 50 percent leave the profession.” By contrast, now into its sixth year, 90 percent of Martinez Fellows are still teaching. Including Sauceda, who was one of the first Martinez Fellows. She teaches physics to high school students at TAF Academy, a diverse public school south of Seattle with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
 
The Martinez Fellows Program gives its fellows professional development seminars to help them through challenges presented during the first years of teaching.
 
Sauceda believes she survived the early years of teaching because of the community of support of which she is part. “One of the first things that happened in the program is that we went to an IslandWood retreat on Bainbridge Island for an inspiring weekend trip. We got to hear from experienced teachers. Experienced principals. It really got me pumped up.”
 
Some of those veteran teachers have acted as mentors, observing Sauceda in the classroom and giving her pointers, as well as an expert to call when teaching gets tough. 
 
But the most practical help she’s gotten actually came directly from the Martinez family. “When I first started teaching, we visited Holli and Edgar in their home and they had a table full of supplies and they just let us kind of go nuts, grab whatever we needed.”
 
The lack of money for school supplies and low salaries are certainly factors in teacher attrition. But Adair says, while the general public thinks that’s the main reason teachers quit, in his experience that’s not true. They quit because they feel isolated as they struggle with classroom management. Minority teachers feel the isolation more keenly, Adair says, because they are often the only teachers of color in their schools.
 
This disparity is even more evident in STEM classrooms. Fewer minority students enter teaching programs having completed coursework in science and mathematics, and therefore fewer apply to teach those subjects. Or, put more plainly, most science, technology and math teachers are white. Put even more plainly: STEM disciplines are where lots of great jobs are and many minority students are missing out on those career opportunities.
 
That is one reason that the Martinez Foundation recently made a significant change. The foundation merged with TAF — the Technology Access Foundation — because TAF has a history of getting students of color engaged in STEM learning.
 
“We are very excited about the evolution of the Martinez Foundation becoming the Martinez Fellows Program under Technology Access Foundation’s umbrella, to work with some amazing folks in teacher development, STEM education and project-based learning,” says Adair.
 
TAF has the infrastructure to allow what is now called the Martinez Fellows Program to accept more minority graduate students to train to become teachers. Teachers like Carlito Umali, who, with the power of what he calls his Martinez Fellows family, is primed to hit it out of the park.
 
“If I can have that family at my back, I can stay passionate in this field,” Umali says. “To be in front of kids, to be with kids, to be with families, is such an important job. And with the Martinez Fellows Program, it seems less impossible.”
 

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The Golden Apple Moments program honors educators, programs and schools making a positive difference in Washington State education. Since 1992, award recipients have been featured in special segments that air on public television stations across the state and online. The KCTS 9 Golden Apple Moments are made possible through funding from PEMCO Insurance.

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Kathy Tuohey

Veteran producer Kathy Tuohey has been working in broadcast television for over 25 years. From daily segments to documentaries, her expertise includes arts programming, human interest stories and education specials. She is managing producer of the Golden Apple Awards, produces the Pathways to Excellence education series, and is a contributor to IN Close.  This Northwest native’s natural curiosity about the people and places of our region keeps her on the lookout for the next great story.

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Jenny Cunningham

Jenny Cunningham’s favorite kind of story is the one she hasn’t done before. Whether it’s reporting for TV or writing for magazines, travel or tribulation, Cunningham likes discovering something new. At KCTS, Cunningham has covered everything from the history of Hanford’s race to build the atomic bomb to biodynamic wine to opera supernumeraries. Cunningham has been honored with television journalism's most prestigious awards including Emmy Awards and the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best News Series in America.

As a writer for magazines and newspapers Cunningham’s features have appeared in publications including the Irish Times, Sunset Magazine, Seattle Magazine, the Vancouver Sun, The Oregonian and Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Cunningham has a master’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern University and she graduated cum laude from USC with a BA in Journalism and a BA in Theater

More stories by Jenny Cunningham

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