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Nonprofit creates teaching residency pipeline to help with teacher shortage

City Year Denver partnered with Denver Public Schools to create a pathway for residency fellows to earn their teacher licenses within a year of residency.

DENVER — City Year Denver developed a multi-year teaching residency pipeline to make becoming a teacher more affordable for their AmeriCorps members. 

At Johnson Elementary School in southwest Denver, the Teaching Fellow Residency program prepares young people -- between the ages 18 and 25 -- to lead a classroom and was modeled after medical residency training. 

“We train them, they go into the public schools, and they work with students across all grade levels in math, literacy, social emotional and academic learning,” said City Year Denver senior vice president and executive director John Albright. “We saw that Denver students needed support to be on track for graduation from high school and that’s really how City Year started its work in public schools.”

City Year Denver has been serving schools in Denver for the past 11 years and partnered with the Denver Public School District (DPS).

This year, the group has partnered with seven schools across the district and serves around 3,000 students across all grade levels. Part of that service to students was a plan to create a pathway for residency fellows to earn their teacher licenses within a year of residency. The goal is to build a teaching pipeline in under-resourced areas to help with a shortage of teachers.

“On any given day, there’s a teacher shortage across the city and across the nation,” Albright said. “Here at Johnson Elementary, over the past several years, we built a pipeline into teaching through our program where they now have four teachers who are former City Year corps members.”

Credit: Byron Reed

According to City Year Denver, the fellows go through a gradual release program which is like a medical residency where they are matched up to a school, to a grade that is dependent on their master’s program. They’re paired with teachers who have at least three years of experience and eventually take on transitions like going into meetings, parent-teacher conferences with the hope that by spring break, they are either fully teaching the classroom or co-leading about 95% of the time.  

Credit: Byron Reed

“The folks that are teaching fellows have already been in that school for a year as a City Year corps member in the year prior,” Albright said. “They already know the students, they already know the staff, they know the school community and they’re coming back in to learn how to be a full-time teacher now and spend that time in a place that knows them.”

“After my first year here, I decided to pursue the teaching fellowship,” said City Year fellow Hanniah Martinez. “Now I’m in the last few months of my master’s program in elementary education, a few months away from licensure and I’ve got a job secured for next year in first grade.”

Credit: Byron Reed
City Year Denver teaching fellow Hanniah Martinez (right) instructs second graders at Johnson Elementary School in southwest Denver.

Martinez is a teaching fellow at Johnson Elementary developing her teaching skills in a second grade classroom where most of her students are native Spanish speakers. A few years ago, she thought she had the perfect plan for her own career until the unexpected happened.

“I studied psychology in my undergrad and sort of had the intention of becoming a therapist,” Martinez said. “I decided to do a gap year with City Year Denver to work with younger populations and I fell in love with the students, I fell in love with the school environment (and) the culture.”

Martinez immigrated to the United States with her family from Mexico when she was 4 years old. She said as a Latina, she developed a deep connection with the students.

Credit: Byron Reed

“Sometimes I get emotional about it just because I see my younger self in them,” Martinez said. “Spanish was my first language; I remember that struggle and I remember not having teachers that looked like me.”

Lucero Valderrama is the director of teaching, learning, and development of City Year Denver. She said so far, they’ve graduated 30 members through their teacher development program.

“They have been able to dip their toes into every single aspect of teaching that they can before they’re fully in charge of their 30-60 students the next year,” Valderrama said. “One hundred percent of our teaching fellows who have gone through this program here in Denver have gone into education and are still in education.”

City Year Denver is looking for young people between the ages of 18-25 to join their program to continue building relationships which Albright said is the key to success.

Credit: Byron Reed

“We know the power of those trusting adult and student relationships is the key,” Albright said. “To actually breaking through to students and supporting them to be successful with their academics and their social/emotional growth and development.”

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