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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Drs. Chizhik, Brandon Work to Bring More Students of Color into Teaching

Drs. Estella Chizhik, Regina Brandon and SDSU students.


For much of her childhood, Dr. Estella Chizhik attended predominantly white schools and was taught by exclusively white teachers. That was until her father, a U.S. Army officer, was transferred to Fort McPherson in Atlanta. He decided to send Estella to attend 7th grade at Sylvan Elementary, a public school in the predominantly black neighborhood near the base.

“The whole time I was growing up, from kindergarten through 6th grade, I thought I wasn't very bright,” said Chizhik, who is black. “Ms. Maribel looked at me and she asked what reading level I was in. I said, ‘I don't know, I guess I'm in the low.’ She said, ‘Let’s give the high reading group a try. I think there's something more there.’”

Placed in the high reading group, Chizhik said she was positive she would fail. Instead, she excelled.

“Ms. Maribel is responsible for turning my life around,” Chizhik said. “That is the embodiment of how a black teacher can make a difference in the life of a black student. And that really stuck with me. If it weren't for her, I don't think I'd be here.”

Chizhik, now a Professor in San Diego State University’s School of Teacher Education, and Dr. Regina Brandon, Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education, are now working to give future generations of California students a Ms. Maribel of their own.
A lot of students don't have any professors who look like us, so it’s important for them to see that we're here; to have us be able to talk to them about our background and the urgency of the situation. I think it's very important.
Dr. Regina Brandon
The teacher diversity gap in California is stark. Statewide, 77 percent of students in public schools are students of color. However, teachers of color make up only approximately 30 percent of the educator workforce. This is significant because research has shown that students of color who have at least one teacher of color in their classroom before 3rd grade are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college.

Brandon and Chizhik are looking to make a dent in the disparity. Two days before the start of finals, they hosted Take a Study Break!, an event geared towards providing students of color in the liberal studies and child and family development majors mentorship and encouragement to consider careers in education.

“We have to have these outreach programs so students know that we're here for them,” Brandon said. “It also gives students the opportunity to see us — a lot of students don't have any professors who look like us, so it’s important for them to see that we're here; to have us be able to talk to them about our background and the urgency of the situation. I think it's very important.”

Thirteen students attended the inaugural session, which included free pizza and door prizes funded by the Provost’s Strategic Excellence Award won by Brandon and Chizhik over the summer. Students — hailing from everywhere from Northern California to Tijuana to Kenya — introduced themselves, discussed their career goals and had the chance to ask questions to the two professors. While Chizhik and Brandon specifically highlighted their Garden PLOT teacher credential program, they also encouraged students to consider career pathways in school administration and leadership, as well as higher education.

“There is a lot you can do to make a difference in all these areas,” Chizhik told the group. “I encourage you to think big.”

Chizhik and Brandon foresee hosting two similar sessions every year. Next semester, they’re working on creating a networking session geared toward graduating credential students of color, connecting them with administrators and hiring managers from local school districts.

“That's the goal — to try to get people much more aware, informed, and connected,” Chizhik said.