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Eight Graduate from Teach Toledo Cohort I

By Lynne Hamer, Ph.D.,

Special to the Truth


Eight students from Cohort I of the Teach Toledo Initiative marched across the stage in Glass Bowl Stadium on May 4 to receive recognition for their graduations and to shake the University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber’s hand.  


Velvet Saunders described the most memorable moment in her journey to earn an Associate of Arts degree as “when I came to the realization that I could be a mom, student, and work full time all while keeping my grades up.  I accomplished this only with the loving support of my family and friends, and their belief that I would achieve my dream to teach.”


Bianca Byrd, who had brought many credits into the program, completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.  Amber Crystal Alleyne, Robert Earnest Fletcher III, Marisela Aleine Haack, Kaleene Hairabedian, Dawn Marie Merritt, Michael Polk, Velvet Anne Saunders, and Joyce-Ann M. Walker-Pates will all complete their Associate of Arts degree in August (they have one math class left): As summer graduates, they were recognized at this week’s spring ceremony.


Significantly, all eight graduates are products of Toledo Public Schools and seven of them currently work for TPS as paraprofessionals, i.e., assistant teachers.


Earning the degree was not an easy accomplishment, but it affirmed the power of personal initiative combined with community support.

Seven graduates attended the University College Spring Convocation Dinner on May 3.  They are (left to right): Marisela Haack, Joyce Walker-Pates, Kaleene Hairabedian, Dawn Merritt, Robert Fletcher III, Amber Alleyne, Velvet Saunders, and Bianca Byrd


Dawn Merritt, Bianca Byrd, Robert Fletcher III, Velvet Dobosu, and Marisela Haack were five of the eight University of Toledo graduates through the Teach Toledo Initiative recognized in the Glass Bowl commencement ceremony on May 4.


Dawn Merritt and Velvet Saunders summed up the experience on their graduation hats.

“After dropping out of college three times, I’m finally finishing with my first degree.  I’m the first in my family to graduate college with a degree, something I’m very proud of.  I want my sons to see this and know that it all pays off,” said Amber Alleyne.


Alleyne, Marisela Haack, and Michael Polk graduated with the designation High Scholarship, meaning they maintained a 3.3 (out of 4) grade point average or better throughout their degree coursework.


Haack shared Alleyne’s view that setting an example for children is key.  She noted, “I am most proud of the personal and educational growth I’ve experienced these past two years at UT, and the example I have set for the children in my family in getting my degree.” 


Haack’s daughter Lisandra (or “Cita”) has clocked quite a few hours herself for a college degree, attending classes several times a week with her mother; however, at five-years-old, Cita is about to embark on her own journey: She will enter kindergarten at TPS’s Grove Patterson Academy this fall.  One thing is sure: she enters knowing how to study!


The Teach Toledo Initiative employs a “2+2” design: Students complete two years of coursework toward an associate degree, with those courses held at TPS’s Jones Leadership Academy of Business, Monday through Thursday, 4:30-7 p.m. 


It is a rigorous schedule—especially since most of the cohort works fulltime and has family responsibilities, and several work several jobs.  However, the off-campus location means they can park two minutes from the classroom, and the set schedule means they are available for first shift employment and can get home in time for a late supper with family.


Oftentimes, however, students reconvened at UT’s Carlson Library for late-night study sessions—with late-night sometimes stretching to 3 a.m.  If someone was missing from class or needed to get to the library, their classmates blew up their cell phone with texts.  “We are a family” is a common refrain, and students cite the cohort model, in which they have all their classes together, as key to their success.


The second “2” of the “2+2” is junior and senior years on campus in the University of Toledo Judith Herb College of Education.  If the seven associate degree graduates keep up the same pace they have set, they will graduate with their Bachelor’s of Education degrees in May 2021.  This will qualify them for an Ohio teaching license.  At that point, they will be licensed to teach in their own classrooms.


A key feature of the Teach Toledo “2+2” is its 100 percent match between the plan of study for the associate degree and core requirements for the B.Ed., Intervention Specialist degree, which is the degree for special education licensure.  The associate degree is just a bonus: it is nice to complete a degree after two years hard work, and because no credits will be lost toward the goal of the bachelor’s degree and licensure, it is a good deal.


Five of the seven associate degree graduates plan to continue on campus in the UT JHCOE to earn their B.Ed., Intervention Specialist.  They will be able to continue their fulltime work as paraprofessionals because classes are after 4 p.m, and as Teach Toledo students, they will be able to do required methods and student teaching within their positions. 


The transition should be seamless, though it will require rigorous work and long hours on their parts.  Kaleene Hairabedian explained, “My plans upon graduation are to switch positions at Toledo Public Schools and become a licensed Intervention Specialist.  I’ve been working as a paraprofessional for the past six years and I am extremely excited for this new chapter in my life.”


Two associate degree graduates will take different routes through their junior and senior years to their B.Ed. degrees.  Mike Polk has decided to pursue licensure to teach junior high and high school social studies, and says he also plans “to teach abroad at some point—maybe in China or Hong Kong.” Robert Fletcher intends to pursue his lifelong dream: licensure as a music educator.


The author is coordinator of Teach Toledo and is very proud of these students and grateful to be part of this collaboration between the University of Toledo and Toledo Public Schools. UT’s Teach Toledo is recruiting for Cohort II, with May 31 being the deadline for application. Requirements are a GED or a high school diploma, and all ages are welcome.  Classes will begin in August.  Contact Hamer at 419-283-8288 or lynne.hamer@utoledo.edu, or go to the website at www.utoledo.edu/education/teachtoledo to apply for admission on line.


This article is part I of a three part series: Part II will focus on research characterizing the lack of teachers of color as a civil rights crisis, and part III will offer an assessment of Teach Toledo’s progress in addressing that crisis.





Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05/09/19 08:45:33 -0400.

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