When activist and educator Tyra Good, Ed.D., saw the advertisement seeking a founding faculty director for the Elms College Center for Equity in Urban Education (CEUE), she found that the job description could have been written just for her.
Good has been at the forefront of promoting a community-based, holistic approach to creating engaging and equitable learning that also acknowledges the realities of a social and racially inequitable educational system. She also has extensive knowledge of culturally sustaining pedagogy and previously served as an Assistant Professor of Education that oversaw the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps, which was a teacher residence program designed as a culturally responsive approach to diversifying the teacher pipeline.
The CEUE takes an innovative approach to strengthening urban education and bridging the 800-teacher gap in K-12 schools in Holyoke, Springfield and Chicopee by focusing on teacher training and educator support as the catalysts to improving the educational outcomes of children in underserved schools. One of its overarching goals is to diversify the teacher pipeline in western Massachusetts to better reflect the student population of urban schools.
She has spent the last decade as an activist and educator, most recently as assistant professor of Practice in Education and Liaison, Equitable School District and Community Partnerships at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. She also founded GOOD Knowledge Connections and Black Educators Network of Greater Pittsburgh, which has created a collective voice of support among kindergarten to higher education and community educators who are working with African-American youth in marginalized communities. This partnership is essential because, to be successful, not only do teachers, students, and parents need to be engaged, but the entire community as well, she said.
Good approaches her social justice-based educational activism from personal experience. She sees the difference in outcomes for black, brown, and other students of color compared to white students not as an achievement gap, but as an opportunity gap. She began her college career at Howard University at a disadvantage because of the lack of academic rigor in the curriculum at her high school. Without the opportunity to receive a public education at a high school that offered courses aimed at college preparation, she had to work that much harder to reach her academic goals.
That inequity shouldn’t exist, she says, because every child should automatically have access to the same quality education and the opportunities it provides.
Good received her business management degree from Howard and was on track to earn her MBA when she decided her passion was to combine social justice and education and switched her degree to a master of arts in teaching at Chatham University. She then earned her doctorate in educational leadership and evaluation from Duquesne University.
Learning that the founders of Elms College, the Sisters of St. Joseph, are passionate social justice advocates made Good confident that she was perfectly aligned with the college’s mission and very foundation. She cites a particular quote from Elms College President Emerita Kathleen Keating, SSJ, as an example: “Obviously, we cannot work toward unity if we are not also struggling to change those systems that deprive people of access to their share of the earth’s resources.”
“The Center for Equity in Urban Education at Elms College will create a learning ecosystem that will disrupt and transform inequitable educational structures that exist within local, regional, national and global communities. We will integrate Elms’ mission and core values of Faith, Community, Justice, and Excellence into our programs, pipelines, and partnerships,” Good said.
When she learned that the president of Elms College was Haitian, that was another synergistic moment.
She partners with Functional Literacy Ministries of Haiti to provide professional development workshops to Haitian teachers and school administrators, as well as with Haitian children, parents, and community leaders about creating culturally responsive educational partnerships.
For her dedication and commitment to diversifying the teaching pipeline and preparing pre-service teachers to work in urban settings, Good has received a myriad of awards. Most recently, she received a 2019 National Deeper Learning Equity Fellowship through Big Picture Learning and Internationals Network for Public Schools. Deeper Learning Equity Fellows are exceptional leaders, education practitioners, policy advocates, and researchers who are committed to expanding Deeper Learning educational practices aimed at improving public education opportunities for underserved communities.
Center is Helping Turn Dreams to Reality
The Center for Equity in Urban Education (CEUE) launched in the fall of 2019 with the goal of improving outcomes for black and brown children by increasing the number and diversity of qualified K-12 teachers in urban schools. The CEUE began with the strong foundation of a substantial grant from the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, a significant gift from Cynthia and Bill Lyons, and a starting partnership with seven public, private, and diocesan schools and school districts in Holyoke, Chicopee, and Springfield.
In the past year, the center has steadily added partner schools and students and now has 21 enrolled, 14 in the bachelor’s program and seven pursuing the master’s track, said Dave Legitime, CEUE program coordinator.
“Applicants are of diverse origin from Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee,” Legitime said. “They already have an associate’s degree or at least have credits that can be [applied to] the field they are studying and are, for the most part, already in their city’s education system as teachers or paraprofessionals. That way what they are learning will apply directly to the field and help reinvigorate the education system of their communities.”
The bachelor’s degree program assists pre-K to grade 12 paraprofessionals serving in local schools with completing their bachelor’s degree and earning a provisional license as classroom teachers in as little as three years. The master’s degree program gives educators teaching pre-K to grade 12 in these schools a chance to earn their master of arts in teaching degree and provisional or initial teaching license in as little as two years. Both programs provide substantial financial support to students to help them achieve their aspirations.
Ebony Branch, a paraprofessional at Duggan Academy in Springfield, is one of those students.
“I am impressed with the program because they are giving paraprofessionals a chance to finish school,” she said. “I am pursuing my education degree so I can continue to teach in special education. I do not plan on settling for a bachelor’s degree; I plan on working for a master’s.”
Branch has big plans for her future that the opportunities provided by the CEUE will help her achieve.
“In 10 years I plan on building a homeless shelter for children, and having a degree in education will help support me to create my dream into a reality,” she said. “I am grateful for this program. I love teaching, and I am excited to see how CEUE affects my life in the future.”
This story was published in the Fall 2020 issue of Elms Magazine.