Hope Street Group Network Member Interview with Jason Terrell, Co-Founder and Director of Development, Profound Gentlemen
The quality of education and future economic opportunity for students are implicitly linked; yet, educational equity continues to be a major concern across the education system. Can you share some background on Profound Gentlemen and how it is uniquely positioned to address this issue?
We are positioned to influence this idea of education equity by ensuring more boys of color specifically have increased role models of success in the classroom. We believe that it is important students have both the academic knowledges to be successful, as well as quality social emotional learning, and that’s where our value add is. We ensure students, especially boys of color, have positive and impactful relationships with men of color in their lives. We recruit black males into the pursuit of education, and we place these guys in schools. We try to place guys in high needs schools with a low percentage of black male teachers. In addition to that, we give our gentlemen professional development support. They receive ten months of support around social emotional learning and strategies. These strategies are directly linked to improving behavioral outcomes and improving the child’s overall self-esteem and awareness. We also teach our educators to really influence culture and to infuse their identity into the classroom, because often times there is not an opportunity to have conversations around your personal identity. Those two ideas are the big ones we try to push, not only getting men in, but ensuring they are equipped to be successful in the profession.
Hope Street Group recently published On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers, focused on concrete ways of improving teacher preparation. Given the dearth of teachers of color, especially male educators, what is the importance of increasing teacher diversity and how can teacher preparation support that effort?
The number one reason that teacher preparation is important it’s because our school systems are changing. Currently 80% of our teachers are white women. But if we look at our current demographics of public school students, over 50% of students across the nation are students of color. If we want to ensure we’ll have any diverse and equitable world, we have to make sure the teacher workforce is equally diverse. One thing that teacher preparation programs can do to facilitate is around image and perception. Students at an early age need to understand what education is and what it means to be an educator. A lot of that has to do with how you market education programs to high school and college students, as well to the community. So what type of environment are your students coming into? If you have a black male who wants to become a teacher, and they are coming into an education program that doesn’t really facilitate that sense of community building, that doesn’t really communicate ideas around social justice or equity and doesn’t leverage his uniqueness and the profession, that person will not feel that sense of value. So, I think that community building and, really, an individualized approach is critical. It can’t be standardized, you really need to look at the students coming in and tailor the programs accordingly.
How do you believe teacher preparation can better prepare teachers for the diverse classrooms they will be asked to instruct?
To have that cultural response of teaching and pedagogy, I believe a lot of that comes down to having teacher preparation programs that are just as diverse as the schools these teachers will be going into. If they are in a program that is very homogenous, you cannot expect them to go into a school district and operate in a culturally diverse environment when they didn’t come from a culturally diverse program. That’s why ensuring that the program itself is cultured, as far as who’s in front of you teaching, the cohort you are surrounded by, etc. plays an important role in ensuring that teachers are comfortable matriculating to a system with students that don’t look like them. They will still be able to understand the culture because they’ve had that previous interaction.
Our Gentlemen features a video overview that ends with a moving reflection from a young black student. Can you share how the work of Profound Gentlemen impacts this population and what further impact would you hope to see for these students moving forward?
Unfortunately, a lot of men of color are not present in households, that’s a reality. There are not a lot of consistent role models for young boys to see. I was fortunate to grow up in a household and a community where I had my father, grandparents and a lot of positive male role models, but a lot of boys do not have that opportunity. So having a man of color who can be a role model, who they can identify with and relate to, is definitely inspiring–beyond an academic level and to that social emotional learning level. The young man featured in the video had a father who wasn’t in his life and who had been in and out of prison, so having a man who is consistent, who cared, that makes a world of difference for some kids. The goal is that every student can enter a cradle to career pipeline. So when a boy of color enters pre-K or kindergarten, he has an impactful man of color through the elementary to college level. Not that these boys don’t have these images at home, but to reinforce these images of success and matriculate through a school system that has a black male teacher, a black male principal, a black male counselor and that it is not a unique experience, so to speak.
Hope Street Group believes in a cross-sector approach to tackling the most pressing issues in education, health and jobs. What are some critical partnerships in education and/or outside sectors that you believe must take place to move the needle around education equity?
I agree that education equity is an issue bigger than the education sector. I believe one of the biggest concerns is the intersection between housing and education, and how much your zip code and where you live impacts the quality of your life and education down to your school environment, the amount of fruits and vegetables you are able to eat. I would love to see more action around this intersection of zip code, homeownership and life outcomes, within education and beyond.