Rockwood administrators have a program designed to encourage minority graduates of the school district to return as teachers upon graduation from college.
"Welcome Home" is entering its third year. The program is designed to help district administrators recruit people of color as teachers.
"In the first year, we accepted three applicants into the program," said Rockwood Director of Human Resources Dr. Tracy Edwards. "Our goal is to attract a diverse population in our teaching staff that reflects our student population."
The students are not guaranteed Rockwood teaching jobs upon graduation. What they are guaranteed is a job interview.
Welcome Home participant Edrance "Ed" Emmanuel, a 2019 graduate of Eureka High School, is studying music education at University of Missouri-St. Louis. Emmanuel and other program participants receive a $1,000 stipend toward their school expenses for participation in the program. The money must be used for specific school-related expenses.
"I'm really happy about the program," said Emmanuel during an interview in March. "It makes a difference. My stipend goes to my housing."
Emmanuel said he sees his participation in Rockwood's Welcome Home program as a motivator.
"It's not often you can find people who support and encourage you to get your degree," he said.
Emmanuel explained why he wants to come back to Rockwood.
"I transferred in eighth grade to LaSalle Springs, and I really enjoyed the music there," Emmanuel said. "Though I created strong bonds with many teachers, I noticed there is a lack of diversity. I try to give everyone different ideas and different perspectives to work with."
He said the program provides him with a set of guidelines and a mentor.
"I am required to keep in contact with Rockwood officials, including my mentor, Mary White," said Emmanuel. "She's the orchestra teacher at Eureka High. I have to notify my academic advisors at UMSL. It helps to know there's a whole department in a very good school district dedicated to helping me succeed."
Based on his experience, Emmanuel said he would recommend Welcome Home for other students of color in Rockwood.
"If you're wanting to go into education, I definitely recommend it," said Emmanuel. "Although it's not a guaranteed job, it's a guaranteed interview. There's a lot to be said for that."
Edwards said, "The program is structured so that the students have to meet with me on their college campuses every fall and spring and sign an agreement to indicate they will maintain a certain grade point average. They agree to participate in practicums, observations and student teaching here in Rockwood. For that they are guaranteed interviews when they graduate and are ready to begin a job."
There are multiple check points in the program. Rockwood administrators also contact the students' college counselors to make them aware of the criteria necessary for continued participation in the unique program.
"Their college advisors know what the commitment is," said Edwards. "They know the students have to maintain a certain grade point average and be in good standing."
Edwards discussed the financial incentive administrators have added to the program.
"We provide $1,000 a year toward college expenses such as tuition, housing or books," said Edwards. "We write the check to the university's bursar's office."
Program participant Ahmed Barrow, a 2019 graduate of Marquette, is studying English education with minors in music technology and child advocacy at Culver-Stockton College.
"While I'm in college, I have to make sure I follow certain requirements such as GPA," said Barrow. "My college advisor meets with Dr. Edwards and me to understand what the program is all about."
Barrow said he's proud to be part of Welcome Home.
"I think it's a great idea," said Barrow. "I'm excited to see what it holds in store for me and other students like me."
Barrow commented on the prospect of him coming back to his alma mater as a teacher.
"So if I wanted to go back to Marquette High and teach, this would get me an interview," he said. "Hopefully, I would knock it out of the park and get that position. Since I'm an African American male, there weren't that many teachers in high school who looked like me. The fact that I could come back and represent students who make up a fair amount of the district is pretty cool. I'd be honored."