BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The very first cohort of students is ready to graduate from Urban Teacher Academy (UTA) at McKinley High School in Buffalo.
Over the past four years, four McKinley High School seniors set out on their journey together, pledging to be future teachers when the joined UTA when it was unveiled in late 2017.
Many minority students say they want more teachers that look like them and who have a better understand of their cultural backgrounds.
These four young women from McKinley High School are the first to graduate from the Urban Teacher Academy. They’ve made a pledge to become @Buffalo_Schools teachers and are headed to @buffalostate for their college education. @WKBW #teachers pic.twitter.com/210a4pSWn1— eileen buckley (@eileenwkbw) June 14, 2021
The UTA is partnering Buffalo State. The four students successfully completed 12-college credit hours and have been accepted to attend Buffalo State to study education this fall.
“I want to be a Buffalo School teacher because I want to be there for my students,” reflected Shamila Shabani.
Shabani, born in the Congo, is from South Africa. She says it's important for students to see diversity in the classroom.
“I want to have an impact on my students. I want them to use me as a role model. I want them to look back and see that I made a difference in their lives,” Shabani explained.
Deborah Perez is Hispanic and she tells me she wants to be able to be a bi-lingual teacher in the city.
“Why do you want to be a Buffalo School teacher?” Buckley asked.
“Because I would like to give back to my community and help them out to become better people — better version of themselves,” Perez replied. “If they see me as a Spanish teacher they will know that they're not alone — that they've got somebody to connect to.”
The UTA concept is 'grow our own' in hopes of generating more future teachers of color for the city schools.
Here’s a breakdown of the number of minority students in the Buffalo School District versus the number of minority teachers:
Total number of students of color in Buffalo Public School District:
Black or African America
- 13,842 or 45%
Hispanic or Latino in city schools
- 6,298 or 21%
In the 2018-2019 school year there were 3,080 Buffalo Public School teachers, but only 440 represent non-white teachers — that’s 14.3%.
Statewide, in 2018-19 school year, 80-percent of teachers in New York State were white, just 8-percent Black and 7-percent were Hispanic.
“It’s very important to teach kids that there is no one set culture in education,” declared Desire Tubbeins.
Tubbeins says she originally wanted to be a forensic scientist, but the UTA created a new opportunity for her and now she is set on teaching.
“It kind of opened a door for me and I didn't even realize it was such an amazing opportunity that I had and I’m like — you know — I can do this — I could be a teacher,” Tubbeins said.
“I just had an epiphany — like this is what I really want to do,” recalls Kaleena Kenner.
Kenner says she has always loved being around kids, but what convinced her to pursue a teaching career happened while watching a video in a college level course about special education and incorporating special needs students into regular classes.
Kenner says teaching urban children as a woman of color will be very important.
“That's really important because once you see that there's other people like you, you'll feel more comfortable — if you don't feel comfortable — you won't learn to your full potential because you're always worried about something,” replied Kenner. “Teaching is a huge part of life, especially in an urban area because a lot of students don’t make it out of that urban area.”
The UTA is one of about 30 Career and Technical Education programs available at Buffalo Public Schools.
Director of the programs Robert Harris says they will be expanding to help students with career choices.
“We have a PTECH program with Tesla over at South Park,” Harris noted. “We have police, fire and legal studies over at East High School, which is going to be more community based.”
"How proud are you of these four young women?” Buckley questioned.
“Totally proud — I have a lot of pride in my heart because it shows that the programs work. It shows that Buffalo Schools has something great to offer,” answered Harris.
When students graduate from Buff State, they will get preference for jobs in the Buffalo School District and must commit to working four to five years at city schools.
The UTA also has strong support from former Buffalo Bill Preston Brown. He kept his promise to support students at McKinley High School's Urban Teacher Academy.
The program caught the attention of Brown when he was with the Bills. In late 2017 he adopted the first UTA class and surprised them with iPads. Tubbeins received one that day.