Prince George's County schools and Bowie State University have teamed up in an effort to attack a chronic problem in Maryland education -- the shortage of African-American men teaching in public schools.
The recently announced Men Equipped to Nurture program will help male teachers earn full certification by paying for their classes and certification exam fees. Other institutions in Maryland and beyond are watching closely.
Homer McCall, assistant director of the program, said he plans to meet next week with the Johns Hopkins University to discuss expanding the program beyond Prince George's County. Universities as far away as Washington state have also expressed interest, McCall said.
John Smith is one of those men the program is hoping to keep in the classroom. This is his first year teaching algebra to ninth graders at Largo High School in Upper Marlboro. He plans to continue his education after completing the program.
"The program is paid for ... and I thought, why not get certified and start my master's?" Smith said.
As a male teacher, Smith is in a minority in Maryland. Of the more than 56,000 Maryland public school teachers, less than one-fourth are men. More than 75 percent of Maryland teachers are white.
Courtland Lee, professor of education counseling and personnel services at the University of Maryland, said the program is of particular importance for male black students.
"Girls can look at a woman [teacher] and can see someone, from a gender perspective, who looks just like them," Lee said. "[White] boys can see a white woman and see someone, from a racial perspective, who looks just like them.
"African-American boys cannot see someone who looks like them. African-American boys are the odd person out in elementary school."
More than 77 percent of Prince George's County students are black.
"A young boy can go his entire educational career without one teacher that looks like him," McCall said. "Students sometimes feel more comfortable coming to someone who they can identify with."
The program is "a chance to provide a strong male role model in a young boy or young girl's life," McCall said.
Nearly 50 male teachers have signed up for the program. All teach in Prince George's County. The program will pay for up to 15 hours of education classes at Bowie State to prepare them to take the national teacher certification test, Praxis. Exam fees, which range from $75 to $185, are covered.
Participants also meet once a month with one of 10 mentors. In exchange, teachers will agree to work for two years in the county after they complete the program.
The program has funding for a year. U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer helped secure $347,000 in federal funds for the project. The university contributed $52,000, and the county school system provided $160,000.