KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A new grant of $4.9 million from the U.S. Department of Education is focused on addressing a shortage of teachers in urban areas.  

The funding will be used for a partnership between Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Public Schools and Benton Harbor Schools. 

Dr. Regena Nelson, chair of the department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies at WMU, says a national teacher shortage is only expected to get worse and the coronavirus pandemic is not helping. 

“We were already facing a teacher shortage before COVID,” Nelson said. “Now with COVID, many teachers who were close to retirement, who may have fears about safety if they were in a district that required in-person teaching or if they weren’t comfortable doing virtual teaching, they may have made a decision to retire early,” Nelson said. 

Many districts are also hiring additional teachers to meet the needs of virtual learning, and the stress of teaching during a pandemic also has some concerned qualified teachers will move to other professions. 

The Urban Teacher Residency program will allow staff members who are not certified teachers and already work in the partner school districts to apply. This includes employees like paraprofessionals or long-term substitute teachers.  

“The grant provides funding to the school district to give these teachers stipends, in addition to their salaries for their full-time jobs, that they can use to pay for their classes at Western Michigan University,” Nelson said. 

The yearlong accelerated program will include in-classroom experience along with college courses. The goal is to train 90 certified teachers within three years. At least 20% will be from racially diverse backgrounds. 

Participants will be followed for several years to help ensure success.

The first group is expected to begin the training program in July of 2021.