Alexis Huerta Polanco was a self-described introvert who wasn’t much interested in a teaching career while a student at San Diego’s Hoover High School, a campus situated in one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the city. Approximately 75% of students are Latino, 40% are English learners, and virtually every student, many of them refugees and first-generation Americans, is eligible for the federal free and reduced cost lunch program.
She found her calling as a future educator when she learned about the Tutor-to-Teacher Pipeline program, a partnership with San Diego Mesa College, the San Diego Community College District and the San Diego Unified School District. The program offers high school-based, college-level courses in education and tutor training as part of a seamless pathway leading student tutors to become teachers, all with an eye on diversifying the profession.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much I’ve changed because of this program,” said Polanco, now a first-year student at Mesa College who plans to transfer to San Diego State University and secure her teaching credential. “It helped me come out of my shell. It boosted my confidence. It made me realize how much impact I could have on someone’s life as a tutor and as a teacher.”
Dr. Mark Manasse doesn’t mince words when discussing the Tutor-to-Teacher Pipeline program at San Diego Mesa College. “Our vision is to be the model program in California.”
“The goal is to have students see themselves as a future educator as early as possible, as early as high school, and have them remain and help build their community,” said the catalyst behind the program. “We’re creating a pathway to becoming positive change agents.”
Students in the College Tutor-to-Teacher Pipeline project begin their professional educational journeys via coursework connected to college-level tutor/teacher training. Students shadow college-level learning assistants in discovering educational career opportunities and the support they can expect to receive as future educators. Industry professionals lead discussions on the importance of diversifying the academic field, and students learn how to navigate a pathway to become teachers, administrators, and transformational change makers via an educational leadership lens. These courses provide an excellent opportunity for students to interact with college faculty and to see themselves as teachers and leaders, developing the foundation for a teacher identity.
Even students such as Polanco, who had no interest in becoming a teacher, are exploring the potential to affect change. Manasse pointed to one former Mesa College STEM student who transferred to UC Irvine to major in biology – and minor in education.
“We’re creating a sandbox in which a student can do whatever they want to do during their educational journey while exposing them to potential careers as teachers and educators.”
The key to creating the sandbox, Manasse says, is building a robust tutoring program.
San Diego Mesa College has quietly established itself as a leader in addressing a nationwide shortage of teachers. Mesa, in 2019, launched a separate partnership, the Teacher Pathway Inclusion Program, with San Diego Unified, San Diego State University, and the nonprofit National University to fuel a new generation of educators from diverse backgrounds who reflect the students they teach. In addition, Mesa College partnered with SDSU on a separate but related, five-year, federally funded initiative to grow the number of students transferring into SDSU’s bilingual credential program. Furthermore, Mesa College’s Teacher Education Pathways Program was honored with a League for Innovation’s 2019-2020 Innovation of the Year Award for its focus on diversity, tutoring, smaller classes, stipends, and a direct path to earning a bachelor’s degree.
Additionally, Mesa College offers a bi-lingual educators program called DEBER, which stands for Developing Effective Bilingual Educators with Resources. In Spanish, deber means duty or responsibility, meaning our responsibility is to serve our community. DEBER Scholars self-identify as Latinx/Chicanx/Hispanic and have a desire to teach, inspire and change future students’ lives. As a community of scholars, they work together with professors and counselors on their career paths to becoming bilingual (Spanish/English) educators.
Getting more diverse teachers into K-12 schools is paramount. At a time when districts around the nation are suffering a teacher shortage, the number of new college graduates with bachelor’s degrees in education has been decreasing for decades, according to a Pew Research Center report. A separate Pew study found that elementary and secondary public school teachers are “considerably less racially and ethnically diverse as a group than their students.”
Training more tutors from diverse backgrounds correlates with improved academic performance among tutored students. A Mesa College study, Humanizing Tutoring Data, found that 70% of Latinx female students who participated in tutoring successfully completed Introduction to General Chemistry, significantly higher than the 55% rate of non-tutored Latinx female students. It also found the success rate for Latinx male students in Calculus and Analytical Geometry II (67%) is nearly four times higher than their non-tutored peers.
Jose Franco Rojo is the type of student Dr. Manasse and Mesa College have been hoping to attract. Rojo enrolled at Mesa after graduating from high school and found his calling in mathematics. He found a mentor in a math professor who encouraged him to apply for a pilot program that was a precursor to Tutor-to-Teacher.
“The program opened my eyes,” he said. “I fell in love with the whole education space and what education was all about. I got to support a wide and diverse community.”
He’s now pursuing a master’s degree in mathematics at Cal Poly, Pomona, to become a college math professor.
Daniela Perez Padilla, a San Diego Miramar College student services technician for the campus Outreach and School Relations Office who has a master’s degree in education, is another former Mesa College tutor who is pursuing a career in education. “Becoming a professor is a goal of mine, and the Mesa College tutoring program really paved the way for me to work in education,” said Padilla. •
About the author
David Ogul is a freelance writer based in San Diego