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Teach for America Will Recruit More Latino Teachers

Photograph by Twenty20

As the Latino population continues to rise in the United States, more Latino teachers are needed for the 25 percent of K–12 students who identify as Latino. Only about 8 percent of teachers identify as Latinos currently, according to Teach for America — which means that many students grow up with a lack of teachers they can identify with.

Over the next three years, though, Teach for America's national teacher corps says it will recruit 2,400 Latino teachers — undergrads who are graduating from college as well as young professionals — to teach in public schools in economically disadvantaged areas. Young teachers recruited to the program agree to teach in these low-income communities for two years and many end up staying in the teaching profession at the end of their tenure with the organization.

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The organization's pledge to recruitment comes in response to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics' 25th anniversary during Hispanic Heritage Month, in which President Obama announced 150 "commitments to action" and $335 million in funding to accelerate federal, state and local education programs directed to serve the Latino community.

In addition to focusing on recruiting more Latino teachers, the organization also aims for 30 percent to have a background in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering or math). However, a report released earlier this year by Excelencia in Education found that only 9 percent of STEM degrees and certificates were given to Latinos in 2013. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos made up only 6.5 percent of the STEM workforce in 2011. Even then, the Excelencia in Education study showed that Latinos in STEM careers tend to end up in lower-paid service occupations in the field, such as mechanical engineering technician and computer support specialist. So, experts say, there's still a lot of work to do in creating a pathway to get Hispanic kids interested in STEM and facilitate programs to keep them interested — and support during the college years to pursue advanced degrees that lead to higher paying STEM careers. These hurdles may contribute to challenges Teach for America may face in recruiting STEM educators as well.

"We know that teachers who share the background of their students can have a profound additional impact," Viridiana Carrizales of Teach for America told NBC News in an interview. "Latino teachers have a significant opportunity to serve as role models for their students and to build strong relationships with families through their shared culture and language."

This year, Teach for America says that about 15 percent of its incoming educators are Latino. The organization has previously been criticized for primarily recruiting white students from well-to-do backgrounds and top colleges who can't relate well to the Latino and African-American students they serve in the low-income communities where Teach for America places its teachers. The organization says it will step up efforts to drive a more diverse pool of applicants in the coming years. About half of this year's recruits are are non-white, and slightly more than one-third of the recruits are first generation college graduates.

"We know that teachers who share the background of their students can have a profound additional impact," Viridiana Carrizales of Teach for America told NBC News in an interview. "Latino teachers have a significant opportunity to serve as role models for their students and to build strong relationships with families through their shared culture and language."

Carrizales, who was once an undocumented immigrant when her parents brought her to Texas from Mexico at age 11, is now Teach for America's Director of DACA Corps Member Support — overseeing the 90 recruits who themselves were also undocumented students while growing up and have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, which allows them to stay and work temporarily in the U.S.

These DACA-recipient teachers in the corps can be extremely influential in reaching young DACA students, according to Carrizales and others who are part of Teach for America, giving them hope and encouragement to graduate high school and go on to college. Because they don't have a role model to look up to who they can identify with, who has come from a similar background and has been able to achieve success, many low-income kids don't believe they have a fair shake to achieve, as well.

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