Aiken school leaders address need for more black men in the classroom

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AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) – “Apart from being like minded to the students and embracing the students, simple color of skin can be a big influence as well.”

Logan C. Ford taught his first music class in the 5th grade. Now, he enjoys teaching kids the violin and trumpet. He’s still in college at The University of South Carolina Aiken, but when he graduates he’s already hired.

“I hope that as a music teacher, whether I’m in elementary school or high school, I can influence better out of them,” Ford said acknowledging that often times African Americans may not always be in the most positive situations outside of school.

He is one of five college students, all African American men, to be recruited for the Call Me MISTER program. The cohort will satisfy a major need in the Aiken County Public School District; black male teachers. The district reports that only 36 of its more than 1,500 teachers are black men. That’s two percent. And across the state, it’s three percent. Call Me MISTER aims to change that. The program partners with Aiken Technical College, USC Aiken and Clemson University to recruit and prepare black men to accept teaching positions within Aiken County Public Schools.

“Simply having a diverse classroom is not big enough,” he told us. “It’s having a diverse leadership from principals to educators to staff members.”

A more diverse staff would be a dream for Belvedere Elementary School Principal Salvatore Minolfo. He has one male teacher in the building who is African American. And as a first generation American who’s family hails from Italy, Minolfo said he understands.

He explained, “There are still people who have perceptions about African American males, in particular, that are ignorant because they are not around African American men and women. Much less other minorities. That perception and stereotype really does create this idea that there should be a difference between us. What we’re trying to do in education, particularly in our building and in our district, is to say no we’re all the same people.”

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AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) – There are 789 elementary school teachers in the Aiken County Public School District. Just eight or 1 percent of those teachers are black men. The numbers are low across Aiken County schools where there are just 36 African American males teaching out of the district’s 1,526 teachers.

Leaders are making changes to address the low numbers. The district launched the Call Me MISTER program this year with five men ready for the challenge. The program is based at Clemson University and recruits and prepares African American male students to teach on the elementary and middle school level, where the need is greatest.

The district partners with Aiken Technical College, The University of South Carolina Aiken and Clemson. A cohort of five students from both USC Aiken and ATC have been selected. They will, upon graduation, accept teaching positions in critical need areas within Aiken County Public Schools.

“The data we have is quite clear in this regard, recruiting African American males to the teaching profession remains an area of critical need, not only for our school district, but across our entire state,” commented Aiken County Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford. “Unfortunately, this situation is even more dire at the elementary and middle school instructional levels. The Call Me Mister program marks an important step in addressing this need here in Aiken County.”

The five students participating in the first cohort are graduates from Aiken High School, Midland Valley High School and Silver Bluff High School.

Logan Ford is a 2018 graduate of Aiken High School and a rising sophomore at USC Aiken.

Logan Ford is a 2018 graduate of Aiken High School and a rising sophomore at USC Aiken.

Jabarrik Corley is a 2019 graduate of Aiken High School and will attend ATC during the 2019-20 school year

Jabarrik Corley is a 2019 graduate of Aiken High School and will attend ATC during the 2019-20 school year

Daylan Abney is a 2019 graduate of Aiken High School and will be attending ATC for the 2019-20 school year.

Tavaris Williams is a 2019 graduate of Midland Valley High School and will be attending ATC during the 2019-20 school year.

Stephan Rouse is a 2019 graduate of Silver Bluff High School and will be attending USC Aiken for the 2019-20 school year.

Stephan Rouse is a 2019 graduate of Silver Bluff High School and will be attending USC Aiken for the 2019-20 school year.

“We are excited to be part of this forward-looking partnership with the Aiken County Public School District and Aiken Technical College and look forward to seeing these members of the Call Me Mister cohort on the USC Aiken campus soon,” commented Dr. Sandra Jordan, president of the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Dr. Forest E. Mahan, president of Aiken Technical College, also weighed in and said, “Through this program, ATC will be able to help students build a strong, educational foundation that will ultimately help impact the teacher shortage in South Carolina.”

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