The Daily Orange: Baldanza Fund Aims to Improve Learning for Diverse, Underrepresented Students

(The Daily Orange | Sept. 2, 2022) Syracuse University’s Baldanza Fund for Excellence in Education Policy in Practice sends diverse teaching candidates from the university to local school districts to help underrepresented students learn and grow.

The fund, which SU alumni Marcia and Ben Baldanza proposed in 2020 with a $300,000 grant, started with two fellows in May and partnered with the Jamesville-DeWitt and West Genesee school districts. Fellows complete a fully- or partially-funded master’s degree program that leads to a teacher certification. Afterwards, they must commit to teaching in their district placement for a minimum of three years.

“We had some flexibility and creativity to come up with something that felt really impactful,” said Christine Ashby, director of SU’s Center on Disability and Inclusion. “You don’t get a lot of those opportunities where somebody says, ‘Hey, come up with something you want to try. Let’s talk about it.’”

Isaiah Steinberg, a senior at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, and junior Sophia Caputo said that although their school’s current faculty contributes diversity through a wide range of life experience, the school’s teachers do not reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the student body.

“I think that students should grow up throughout their school careers seeing teachers that look like them.”

“I think that students should grow up throughout their school careers seeing teachers that look like them and that they can relate to on certain issues that they may not be able to with other teachers,” Caputo said.

Students also identify with younger fellows, who can relate more to the generation they’re teaching, Steinberg said. Overall, the pair think that the fellowship will be a positive experience for both their high school and the district as a whole.

“It’s hugely beneficial to have a teacher that you can relate to because…you share a piece of your identity with them.…it empowers you (to think) that you can also pursue maybe what they did or something else,” Steinberg said. “I don’t think students do that enough, really utilizing their teachers to the fullest extent” …

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Learn more about Baldanza fellowships for diverse teachers.