DENVER - Denver Public Schools has started a program to help recruit and retain minority and male teachers. The district’s EdConnect program was started last year as a student-to-teacher pipeline to help fill the void.

“There is a difference when you come from the community and you speak the same language, it just makes such a difference when it comes to building that rapport with our students,” said EdConnect Program Manager Nahum Kisner.

DPS said it’s important to help students of color who are interested in becoming teachers like high school senior Vanessa Contreras-Gomez.

“Having teachers who aren’t of color - they don’t understand anything we are going through and it’s harder on us as a student to keep learning and keep wanting to come back to class if we’re not really engaged in coming to class,” Contreras-Gomez said.

The district started the program last year for 9th -12thgrade DPS students. They say the program has had about a 25 percent increase in participation now with about 500 students—almost half of them are male.

“It’s awesome to have those male role models in the classroom and doing what our program can to make sure we’re retaining these students and mentoring and coaching them up,” said Kisner.

“I hope that they are seeing a positive role model in their lives,” said high school senior Josh Nguyen. “I’m more motivated because now if I know that I’m changing these kids’ lives right now, imagine what I could do 10 years down the line.”

The program is currently at 4 sites in the district:

- Collegiate Prep Academy

- CEC Early College of Denver

- Abraham Lincoln High School

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College

The students work alongside current DPS teachers helping with lessons, working with students one-on-one and gain an understanding of coursework curriculum. The Teaching Assistant Internships are open to juniors and seniors. Students work as a Teaching Assistants and are paid a $1,100 stipend for the semester, which is made possible by a donation from Janus Henderson Investors to the DPS Foundation.

“They are working for 100 hours in the semester where they are taking what they’ve learned in the classroom and then connecting that in the real world,” Kisner said.

The district said they hope these high school students can help in the classroom now to become their teachers of tomorrow.

“Even if you don’t think of it, you are making a change…you’re making a difference being a teacher and being in these kid’s lives,” Contreras-Gomez said.