Two new scholarship opportunities created to help alleviate the teacher shortage in New Mexico have taken shape at The University of New Mexico. Both, the Grow Your Own Teacher (GYOT) Act and the Teacher Preparation Affordability (TPA) Act are state-funded scholarship opportunities designed for those interested in becoming teachers to continue working while completing an academic program resulting in a New Mexico teaching license.

The funding awarded through the State's Higher Education Department offers a remarkable opportunity to identify and train the next generation of teachers who will serve all students while being responsive to the educational needs of those from underserved communities in the state.

UNM’s College of Education is one of several statewide partners in the new initiative approved by the New Mexico State Legislature that awarded state funding as part of the 2019 legislative session for the programs.

“The University of New Mexico is privileged to be partnering with the Higher Education Department, UNM branch campuses, local school districts and communities to grow the number of teachers who are prepared to work with students in a way that is responsive to their cultural backgrounds and to their individual needs as learners,” said UNM Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost James Holloway.

“The College of Education is grateful for the financial support provided to our current and prospective teacher education students via the GYOT and TPA scholarship programs,” said UNM College of Education Interim Dean Deborah Rifenbary. “This additional support is another avenue to recruit culturally and linguistically diverse students to our Educator Preparation programs as well as retain them on their academic journey toward degree completion and teacher licensure.”

UNM holds Education Summit
to bring key stakeholders together

As part of the new Grow Your Own Teacher and Teacher Preparation Affordability Acts, the UNM College of Education is already looking to build upon the success of the legislative initiatives.

UNM recently held an Education Summit inviting stakeholders including key district personnel from across the state, along with university and college faculty, staff and students, and Deputy Cabinet Secretary Carmen Lopez-Wilson from the State’s Higher Education department to further the discussion on the collaborations on how to partner and to work toward common goals the state is looking to build in education.

“The UNM College of Education’s focus for the Education Summit was to create a collaborative and informative forum which provided the opportunity for all participants to engage in active learning and listening regarding the many diverse schools, classrooms, and educational communities of New Mexico,” said UNM College of Education Program Operations Director Smith Frederick.

For Los Lunas School District Superintendent Brian Baca, the legislation and the Education Summit are just a beginning in a long conversation towards solving the teacher shortage issue in New Mexico.

“I've been at the district office for 15 years and I've never been invited to something like this,” said Baca. “I’ve never been asked at a table discussion, ‘hey, what is it that we can do for you?’ I think that's probably a change in the thinking and that UNM realizes the need to reach out to the other districts to create partnerships and ongoing collaboration for next steps. I think that there needs to be continued conversation. My takeaway from this Education Summit is that I feel encouraged."

"The many voices that were present in the Summit reinforced the College’s belief that the rich and varied dialogue that was initiated in the Education Summit needs to continue via a series of forums and summits that provide guidance, direction and support to the many individuals involved in the educational process,” Frederick said. “In light of this, the COE is working with participants from the Summit, UNM leadership and College faculty to create a planning committee that will put forward plans for a Spring 2020 Summit."

The GYOT legislation provides professional leave and a pathway designed for Educational Assistants to continue working while completing their educator preparation program. The scholarship is intended to help defray the educational expenses charged by the institution including tuition, fees, books and course supplies.

The “Teacher Preparation Affordability Act” was created to increase the number of teachers in designated high-need teacher positions through a scholarship for students enrolled in educator preparation programs.

In all, the New Mexico Higher Education Department awarded $10 million in scholarships available to students in colleges and universities throughout the state. The state legislature passed the legislation earlier this year to help ease the statewide teacher shortage. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed both into law last March.

The state provided $5 million in state funding to more than 25 institutions across the state that have teacher education programs. UNM’s main campus, which has the largest teacher education program in the state, was awarded $112,000 in Grow Your Own Teacher funds to support Educational Assistants and $1,036,630 in Teacher Preparation Affordability Scholarship funding. Program participants are those seeking their initial teaching license across all teacher preparation programs in the College of Education.

“The excitement about it (the legislation) has been tremendous, wonderful and gratifying,” said New Mexico State Higher Education Department Deputy Cabinet Secretary Carmen Lopez-Wilson. “We pushed those rules so these programs would be available for this academic year. There are a few teacher education programs in the state that worked really hard to roll this out and do so well both in communication with us and in communication with the school districts, and UNM is one of those schools. Smith Frederick has been extraordinary in setting up the infrastructure that’s necessary for the success of this program, and I think what UNM will see in return is a good increase in enrollment.”

“I do think the last legislative session tried to address the teacher shortage issue and that's a good first step,” said Los Lunas District Superintendent Brian Baca. “Many of these beginning teachers a few years ago had to work two jobs in order to maintain a certain standard of living. I think that teacher pay is still going to be one of the challenges. I think it's (the legislation) a good first step in addressing the teacher shortages with the Teacher Affordability Act and some of these other scholarship programs and it will help people who otherwise may not be able to become teachers.”

The UNM College of Education is a critical provider of teacher education in New Mexico and is well-positioned to meet current teacher training needs because of its faculty expertise in education research relative to Native American students, Bilingual and English as second language learners, and special education. A significant number of UNM College of Education faculty are Native American, Latinx, and/or bilingual and have close ties with New Mexico communities.

The response from students for the scholarships has been impressive. For the GYOT program, UNM is currently working with and processing more than 90 students to determine eligibility. For the TPA Scholarship, UNM is actively working with over 260 students on eligibility and processing applications for 47 students.

“It is evident from the outpouring of interest that these resources are needed and are contributing to stronger partnerships between the college, school districts, the state and our communities which will lead to better outcomes for the children of New Mexico,” said Rifenbary.

UNM student Royce Burbank, a Native American who has lived on the reservation, is benefiting from the TPA scholarship and is now working towards his bachelor's degree in secondary education to teach social sciences. Burbank believes that the social sciences are one of the most important aspects of a young adult’s education.

“I am familiar with the unique challenges that indigenous students face,” said Burbank. “The Teacher Preparation Affordability Scholarship will help me immensely. With extra financial freedom and the peace of mind that comes with it, I will be able to devote more time to becoming the best educator I can be.”

Additionally, the funding is stackable, meaning that a student could receive both, the GYOT and the TPA, if eligible, as well as other forms of financial aid if needed. Because the funding is stackable, eligible students could qualify for $6,000 per year from both GYOT and TPA for a total of $12,000.

“These new scholarship opportunities have been exciting to learn about and to make sure that people interested in becoming teachers know about,” said COE Student Recruitment Specialist Alyssa Gonzales. “They provide opportunities and additional support that many students need to enter and finish their academic paths in education.

“I believe that these new funding sources will ultimately support a great number of individuals who desire to become inspirational teachers in the many and diverse k-12 classrooms of New Mexico. Beyond the student, these scholarships are connecting communities across the state as they come together and better the education system for all.”

The UNM College of Education is approaching the teacher shortage challenge by developing a new generation of educators with a commitment to wrap-around support for students, from providing information sessions and coaching to students to aid in the application process, to advising, to New Mexico Teaching Assessment preparation workshops, to teaching and mentoring.

With an awareness that teachers can best be "grown" if they have strong community relationships and well-prepared leadership, the College of Education’s leadership, faculty, and UNMs academic affairs, have developed a three-point action plan to respond to those needs.

They include:

  • The Grow Your Own Teacher Network will provide culturally responsive local teacher education programs -catering especially to educational assistants and providing the infrastructure for sustainable EA programs-in collaboration with New Mexico school districts and UNM branch campuses, beginning with a pilot at UNM-Main and UNM-Gallup, with the goal of extending to UNM-Valencia, UNM-Taos and UNM-Los Alamos;
  • Professional development for teachers and summer institutes on culturally relevant pedagogy in sites central to the 23 Native Nations of New Mexico will be offered by the Institute for American Indian Education (IAIE);
  • Promoting our Leadership and Learning and Empowering our Nations (POLLEN) will increase the number of licensed school administrators serving Native American students through targeted doctoral education in the College of Education.

“Through these scholarship programs the state has reinforced the need for and provides support to grow a well-prepared and knowledgeable future educator,” said Rifenbary. “UNM’s response is one that is thoughtful, proactive and meaningful to future educators and the K-12 students of New Mexico.”

“I’m tremendously impressed by the work and commitment of all those who are working so hard to grow much-needed teachers in our communities,” said Holloway. “We are eager to see how these seeds planted through the Grow Your Own Teacher Network will bloom.”