BELOIT—As the Grow Your Own Multicultural Teacher Scholarship Program celebrates its fifth anniversary, organizers are reaching out to build the fund with the goal of more diversity in teaching ranks.
“There is a lack of diversity among professional educators. A lot of our diverse staff are from Beloit. If we can’t get people to move here from other places, we need to grow from within our community,” said McNeel Intermediate School Principal Michelle Hendrix-Nora, who leads up the Grow Your Own committee along with Cunningham Elementary School Assistant Principal Jen Paepke.
The scholarship pays for up to $5,000 a year, or a total of $20,000 over four years, for students pursuing an education degree with plans to return to the Beloit School District to teach. The Stateline Community Foundation administers the fund. Those who wish to make a donation can visit this website at www.sdb.k12.wi.us/Page/4829 or shorturl.at/gqBRZ.
Former Wisconsin State Sen. Tim Cullen helped launch the fund, donating $10,000 in the first year and $5,000 this year, Hendrix-Nora noted.
In a typical year there would be a fundraising dinner or other event. Due to COVID-19, there is a fundraising campaign starting amongst staff. Each staff member is asked to donate $50 and see if they can find someone to match. Administrators will be asked to donate $100 and to find someone to match their donation.
Currently there are two students in the program—Karen Soto, who is a sophomore at Beloit College, and Evelyn Cortes, who is a junior at University of Wisconsin Whitewater.
Hendrix-Nora said the students in the program connect with someone from the district during their education to help answer questions and to learn what jobs may become available.
In the future, Hendrix-Nora said the hope is for the program to be expanded so paraeducators working in the district.
Cortes encourages other students to participate in the Grow Your Own program. She said the requirements are maintaining a 3.0 grade point average or above, being in a minority, having experience working with children and being involved in the community.
She graduated from Beloit Memorial High School in 2018 after attending the former Royce Elementary and McNeel Middle schools. She was involved in volunteering at school food pantries, made dinner for people in need and the elderly, helped with Kids Against Hunger and volunteering her services translating English into Spanish in schools.
“I want to be a teacher because I want to help children pursue their dreams and I want to help the teachers that help me,” Cortes said.
The program was a good fit for Cortes. Her family migrated to the United States from Mexico in 1985.
The daughter of Maria Rodriguez and Jose Cortes said she hopes to become a preschool or kindergarten teacher. By taking some of her classes at Blackhawk Technical College and living at home with her parents, she has saved considerable money and the scholarship has been enough to cover her education.
Volunteering virtually at the Even Start preschool in Beloit, Cortes continues to enjoy working with children and is happy staying in Beloit.
“People from here (in Beloit) have seen me grow, and I think giving back to the community will be great,” she said.
As she looks to the future, Cortes said she wants to help children develop the skills that they will need to reach their goals.
“I want to be that teacher that makes a great impact by helping them develop new skills to carry out their goals in life,” she said.
The scholarship program, she said, gives students training and job opportunities to grow.
“You start learning more and you can use it working with children,” she said.