MILWAUKEE — Amid the ongoing nationwide teacher shortage, a local early childhood education provider, Next Door, is using an apprenticeship program to build a pipeline of teachers to serve in some of Milwaukee's most under-resourced neighborhoods.
To learn more about the program, we went to Next Door and spoke with teacher David Tate Jr, who recently graduated from the program after obtaining his associate's degree in Early Childhood Education from Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).
"High-fives, hugs, whatever you need to make sure your day is ready, I want to be there for you because I didn’t have that," said Tate.
He said he was inspired to become a teacher by the lack of black men in the classroom and by the opportunity to change the lives of Milwaukee's earliest learners.
"I didn’t have me at that age. They don’t know how big it is to have someone who understands them from the inner-city of Milwaukee, coming to school everyday," said Tate.
As a part of Next Door's "Pathways" program, he was afforded a 2-year paid apprenticeship.
"That was kind of a win-win for me because I was doing the live work with the kids, and then I was going to school to get the credit. So, everything I was learning, I was getting live-action and hands-on," he said.
He called the work "life changing."
"Those kids, they leave a better impact than you might think you leave on them. So, I was going in to change their lives, but they changed my life," said Tate.
Classroom "veterans" like Debra Tucker, who has worked at Next Door for nearly two decades, are getting a chance to achieve their dreams, too.
"I was so excited to accomplish that goal," said Tucker about graduating from the apprenticeship program. "Being in early childhood education as long as I’ve been in early childhood education, I had a lot of experience but not the credentials."
Here's how the program works: Anyone who wants to advance their career in early childhood education can simultaneously work to complete their associates degree in early childhood education from MATC while also completing paid work hours inside Next Door's classrooms.
It's a program that could end up being a model that brings forth a solution to a big issue.
"There’s just a huge shortage of teachers but its really worse in early childhood," said Tracey Sparrow, President of Next Door. "A lot of people think they have to have experience and training and we’re saying yes, in the past you did, but we’re going to train you and we’re going to give you the classes you need so you can start here as an assistant teacher."
It's a program that is essential in the Milwaukee neighborhoods that Next Door serves.
"The children we serve here at Next Door are typically from under-resourced neighborhoods, like the one we're in here at Metcalfe Park or in midtown. And we know that they really need the support that early childhood education can provide," said Sparrow.
The program is funded by grants from Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and with money from organizations like American Family Insurance's Institute for Corporate and Social Impact. That organization invested $175,000 and says research shows for every $1 invested, there is a $7 payoff when it comes to early childhood education.
"When we think about transforming communities, transforming systems and investing in communities, American Family’s focus is really making sure that we’re giving to the root of the problem," said Jilly Gokalgandhi, the Equity and Education Strategist at American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact.
It's a program that is investing into both the lives of future teachers with big dreams and the children that need them most.
"I just adore them, they’re little lives. Their lives matter and they are our future," said Tucker about the kids she gets to teach.
The program is also expanding to high school students. Next Door hopes to recruit high school students through a partnership with MATC, which would offer advanced credits and a pre-apprenticeship program. That's part of a long-term plan to build the teacher pipeline here in some of Milwaukee's most under-resourced neighborhoods.
This story is part of TMJ4's Two America's series - working to expose problems in our community that you might not realize exist and highlights ways our neighbors are working to find solutions to those problems.