EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Last year, Normandale Community College in Bloomington launched a program called "Black Men in Teaching" to help streamline Black men into careers in education.
The program has since rebranded its name to "Sirtify," and will be graduating its inaugural cohort in the spring.
The program comes as the number of teachers in Minnesota who identify as Black and male currently sits below 1% of all teachers.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of English class at Prairie View Elementary, there are hushed whispers coming from Darius Meyers. Meyers, a special education paraprofessional, sits with a student at the back of the classroom. Meyers helps the student with his worksheet.
"[My role is] pretty much supporting students that need extra attention and extra help with behavioral issues, or work in class," Meyers explained.
To the kids, Meyers is an invaluable confidence booster in the classroom. When he is not assisting specific students, he roams around the class, checking in to make sure other kids don't have questions.
To the school, Meyers is a great resource that came through a precious connection made by the "Sirtify" program at Normandale.
"His name was passed onto me," Prairie View Elementary principal Dr. Quennel Cooper said. "When I had an opening, to say, 'Hey, I'm always looking to have a more diverse team,' and his name came up. And I heard just great things about him."
Cooper, who is on the board for "Sirtify," said Meyers has been incredible for his students.
Meyers, who is a part of the inaugural cohort for "Sirtify," is set to graduate in the spring. Meyers said he's ready to bring change at Prairie View — hopefully soon, this time, in front of the classroom.
"As a kid growing up in schools, you don't see many of us, that look like us," Meyers said. "Having that positive role model, especially as a Black man, is very important, and I think me doing that can change the perspective and narrative on Black men in America."
According to "Sirtify's" program coordinator, Marvis Kilgore, the numbers do not lie.
"If a student has, particularly a Black male student, has a Black male teacher, or a Black teacher before third grade, he is less likely to drop out of school," Kilgore said. "He's more likely to finish high school and even go into college."
"A lot of times for Black males, school wasn't a great place to be at," Cooper added. "So why would I want to come back? Why would I want to come back where being there was not a good experience for me? So we need programs like that to show support and reach out about the importance of why we need Black males in education."
This call to change is one that comes in the form of genuine relationships. Meyers said his favorite part of it all is gaining the trust of the students.
"Once they feel safe with you they'll just keep talking and talking about random stuff and I love it," he said.
Meyers said it's important for him to lead with compassion and by example.
"I've got to say it's a positive outlook on the Black man," he said. "We can do anything we put our mind to. We can be the representation out here, so for younger Black males that may not have positive role models, they see me and maybe one day want to be a teacher as well."
Know anyone who might be interested in Sirtify? You can find more information here.
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