Sonoma State University’s designation as a federally recognized Hispanic Serving Institution is paying its first dividends for students, with a $2.75 million grant awarded to the university’s School of Education for preparing more Hispanic school teachers.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Education is part of $8.1 million in federal funds going to Sonoma State and CSU campuses in Sacramento and Long Beach aimed at minimizing the shortage of teachers from underserved communities in California and around the country.
Sonoma State will use the funds to launch and implement a new program the university is calling PUERTA, which stands for Preparing Under-Represented Educators to Realize Their Teaching Ambitions.
“PUERTA is opening the door to our local Latino community in a way we haven’t been able to do before,” said Kelly Estrada, an SSU education professor and leader of the PUERTA project. “It’s is by conscious design that we developed the PUERTA acronym as it means ‘door’ in Spanish and serves as a great metaphor for what we are attempting to do with these funds in order to support our undergraduate students achieving their goals of becoming early childhood and special educators as well as elementary and secondary teachers.”
PUERTA aims to enhance underrepresented student success at SSU and promote teaching as a prospective career for Hispanic and Latina/o students in the region, Estrada said.
“The numbers of Hispanic students we prepare to be teachers is around 10 percent of the population that receives teaching credentials at SSU,” Estrada said. “We estimate this new source of funding will allow us to prepare more than 400 additional students over the course of the five-year grant. In doing so, PUERTA hopes to increase of Hispanic and Latina/o representation in the teacher population as well as address the elementary, middle and high school pipeline for training Hispanic teachers.”
PUERTA is a collaborative campus-wide effort between the School of Education and the Division of Student Affairs and will be guided and supported by Dr. Carlos Ayala, Dean of the School of Education and Mr. Matthew Benney, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs.
The grant is the first for Sonoma State under the federal program that targets Hispanic Serving Institutions, or HSI. Earning this designation was one of the first priorities for Sonoma State President Judy K. Sakaki when she started in July 2016, and the University announced it had received the designation in February this year.
The federal government’s HSI program is designed to expand educational opportunities for, and improve the attainment of, Hispanic students. These grants also enable HSIs to expand and enhance their academic offerings, program quality, and institutional stability. In the grant awarded to SSU, the federal funds will provide 100 percent of the total cost of the PUERTA project.
“The PUERTA project will have several significant impacts in our North Bay region,” Dean Ayala explained. “First, since PUERTA focuses on undergraduate preparation, the grant will have a dramatic increase in the number of students receiving advising and some of the benefits from our Educational Opportunity Program and other student success initiatives.
“Also, SSU’s graduation rate should improve and the achievement gap should close. SSU will also prepare more quality classroom-ready teachers who are like the students they are going to teach. Since these students will have extensive clinical practice, we know that they will stay in the profession, reducing the teacher shortage and be more effective than teachers prepared in alternate ways.”
PUERTA project activities will include recruiting prospective Hispanic and Latina/o teacher education candidates, offering a set of high-impact academic support practices to those students once they have matriculated to SSU’s campus and improving institutional practices to remove barriers that prevent students from pursuing or earning a teaching credential.
The project will also provide these aspiring future teachers numerous opportunities for engagement with K-12 educators that will focus on career readiness. As part of the project, SSU will also establish the PUERTA Centro for Diversity in Teaching on campus, which will provide a supportive environment where Hispanic and Latina/o students interested in the teaching profession can receive advising, counseling and career services, and academic assistance.