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Pinellas County is working to bring more teachers of color to classrooms

Two young men stand in front of bushes and a glass-fronted building.
Bailey LeFever
WUSF Public Media
Triston Williams (left) and Michael Wright (right) are part of the Call Me MiSTER program.

Call Me MiSTER provides men of color with support such as tuition or housing assistance, books, or professional development.

Studies have shown that children of color perform better in schoolwhen the teacher at the front of the classroom looks like them.

But in Pinellas County, just two percent of teachers are black men--compared to nearly 20 percent of black students.

The county school district is trying to change that with a program aimed at bringing more male teachers of color into the area’s classrooms.

Call Me MiSTER, which is run in partnership with the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, provides men of color with support such as tuition or housing assistance, books, or professional development.

In exchange, the men are placed in Pinellas schools after graduating with an undergraduate or master's degree in education or teaching.

Shauné Ferguson is the Pinellas County Schools program liaison. She said the hope is to bring more representation to classrooms.

"It matters, it does,” Ferguson said. “And it's important for the students to see positive role models within their schools and see what they can be."

So far, the program has three students.

The program hopes to expand to the university’s other campuses in the future, said Brenda L. Walker, the USF professor who brought the program to St. Pete.

The graduates are placed in Pinellas County’s urban and high poverty schools, she said.

“I don’t really like this term that’s used for those schools: high-need schools,” Walker added. “I like to say that the needs are different. So whatever those needs are, our misters will be prepared for them.”

Michael Wright, a 19-year-old freshman in the program, said he identifies with the mission. In his K-12 education, Wright said he was never was taught by a male teacher of color.

"I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but if I had seen something like that, maybe it would have motivated me even more or solidified my passion to become a teacher,” he said. “Cause I believe if you see yourself in a high enough position like that, you can have any job you want.”

Wright said he hopes his presence in classrooms will serve as an inspiration to his future students.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.