Each day of opening the school bus door and welcoming children, Damon Parker made it his mission to inspire. As a Jefferson County Public School bus driver for three years, he was part of student success that he now hopes to expand through a new teaching career.
Parker says he is familiar with teaching, having served as an after-school tutor and through experience as a Sunday School teacher and as associate minister at a local church.
“Becoming a school teacher is a way of investing in my future through students. As adults, we have a responsibility of giving back and showing future generations our mistakes, so they can learn from us,” he said.
Parker is part of the first cohort of 32 students in the Louisville Teacher Residency (LTR) program, an initiative of the University of Louisville College of Education & Human Development and the Jefferson County Public Schools system. The objective of the program, the first of its kind in Kentucky, is to increase the pool of diverse, highly-skilled teachers, particularly in low-performing, urban schools.
The program also seeks to bridge a gap in JCPS, where nearly 37% of students are African American, but just a little more than 12% of its full-time teachers are Black. Of the 32 LTR program participants, 22 identify as Black and two students identify as Latino/Hispanic.
Through an accelerated program, the teaching residents will earn a master’s degree and teaching certification in just one-year. Participants receive $30,000 plus benefits from JCPS during their residency in exchange for a commitment to work five years in an Accelerated Improvement School (AIS) within JCPS. They also can take part in financial literacy and advising through Class Act Federal Credit Union, and Class Act Scholars receive a $3,000 scholarship.
“Speed and quality of education are paramount to answering the call of closing the achievement gap in our schools,” Parker said. “With the efficacy of having a diverse teaching staff being a driving factor in this educational movement, I could not think of another way to get a quality education that would complement and expand my experience.”
Discovering a purpose-driven career
Khay Douglas began her undergraduate studies at UofL in civil engineering, but through an aptitude test and the encouragement of a professor, discovered education was a better fit.
Douglas went on to complete a Bachelor of Science in Early Elementary Education, and mentors encouraged her to pursue the Louisville Teacher Residency.
“My ultimate goal is for my students and families to be able to look back one day and say, ‘Ms. Khay changed my life,’” she said.
Douglas describes herself as an aspiring education advocate, and wants to be a role model of resilience and commitment to future students by earning a master’s degree and teaching certification.
For participants of the Louisville Teacher Residency, the program can be a challenge, though mentors help guide them each step of the way.
“When you think about what is at stake, these feelings of being overwhelmed, hesitation and challenge should be expected,” Parker said. “It’s easy to say you want to teach because you love kids, but this program will make you prove that you mean what you say.”
The first LTR cohort began this summer and is expected to complete the program in June 2021.