One student recalled the life-changing magic of his special education teacher. Another student spoke of being inspired by her family of educators.  This is a chance to make a real difference for the next generation, said many others.

The occasion was a kick-off session and induction program last week for about 40 MEC Education majors in the “Teacher Opportunity Corps (TOC) II Program.”  The program aims to increase the numbers of teachers from under-represented and economically disadvantaged groups, especially those who will teach in struggling schools. TOC is a New York State Education Department-funded initiative of My Brother’s Keeper, designed to help boys and young men of color and all students realize their potential.

Sixteen colleges and universities in New York shared the funds for TOC, with $1.6 million going to MEC.  But Dr. Sheilah Paul, the project director and acting dean of the School of Liberal Arts & Education, noted that MEC’s program is distinctive.  It provides opportunities to teach and learn through clinically-rich preparation under the guidance of college faculty and education leaders from five partner schools in Brooklyn and five partner schools in Buffalo, N.Y.  It supports up to 50 teacher candidates from freshman year through graduation and will provide exchange learning and professional development opportunities.

TOC is perfectly aligned with MEC President Rudy Crew’s vision for a comprehensive, multifaceted college-readiness Pipeline Program.  The pipeline, early-on, helps children and whole communities to take advantage of educational opportunities.

 “The sense I have is that the country is going to struggle with the question of how talent and resources are distributed to poor communities,” Dr. Crew said.  Programs like TOC provide guidance, build confidence, and maximize ability, he said.

The MEC students are all pursuing bachelor degrees in Childhood Education, Childhood Special Education, or Early Childhood Special Education. The MEC-TOC teacher candidates will also benefit from 50 percent paid tuition and subsidies for travel, housing, supplies and state certification.

“I had a tough time in first, second and third grade and my teachers didn’t notice my struggle,” said MEC student Veronica Vivas, who is focusing on Early Childhood special education.  Vivas, who is going into her sophomore year, recalled that she was overlooked because she only spoke Spanish.  Help came from a fourth-grade teacher who provided a Spanish-English dictionary and guidance.

“I don’t want students to feel what I felt,” Vivas said of her desire to teach.

MEC student Aaron Kelly, who just finished his sophomore year, will also concentrate on Early Childhood Special Education because of his school experience. Kelly received special education because of dyslexia and recalled having both good and bad teachers. Still, special education is all too often “almost like prison,” he said.

Talented teachers do not always go where they are most needed, said New York State Regent Lester Young, who addressed the educators and students. Dr. Young noted that the program seeks to create teachers who are as culturally competent as they are steeped in pedagogy.

“One of the most powerful things you can do in the classroom is establish a relationship with a student,” Dr. Young said.