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Romanetha Looper was raising her two sons in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, which is plagued with crime and poverty. This rough community is where Looper has planted roots and sees an opportunity for positive growth and change.
Looper has long been passionate about helping create a community where her sons and other youth can live, learn and thrive. She just needed some empowerment to make a difference, which she realized can grow through education.
In North Lawndale she became involved with Action Now, a grassroots organization of working families who value quality education in a safe and supportive environment. She learned of a partnership between Action Now and Northeastern Illinois University to cultivate new teachers in low-income Chicago communities, including her own.
“I knew this was something I needed to do,” Looper said. “I have always been a youth advocate.”
Looper enrolled at Northeastern and began taking classes in the College of Education, which partners with community-based organizations and several Chicago Public Schools for a program called Grow Your Own Teachers Illinois. The program trains teachers who have the ability and cultural awareness to function as educational leaders and change agents in their home neighborhoods—locations where schools have the highest need and where staffing shortages and retention issues run rampant.
A component of Grow Your Own Teachers aims to remove many of the traditional barriers to higher education that many students who come from historically marginalized communities face—tuition, childcare, transportation, test preparation and academic advisement.
Looper said that the academic experience at Northeastern was challenging, but the assistance she received pulled her through. Looper graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in educational leadership and development and a minor in inner city studies. Today she teaches middle school science at William Penn Elementary School in her home community.
“I was very driven and focused, but there also was so much support for me to continue in the program,” Looper said. “I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn’t be a success story if I didn’t have it. The College of Education has a great team of educators helping students to become great educators.”
In addition to the partnership in North Lawndale, Northeastern partners with community-based organizations and public schools in the Englewood, Bronzeville, Gage Park, Chicago Lawn, Pilsen, Little Village, Logan Square and Uptown neighborhoods.
Thirty-two Grow Your Own teachers have graduated from Northeastern, and 23 are teaching in Chicago Public Schools.
“Northeastern’s Grow Your Own Teachers program has developed into a source of talented teachers who are not only dynamic pedagogues but also change agents who intimately understand the neighborhoods in which they live and teach,” said Maureen Gillette, dean, College of Education.
“Our students have accumulated a wealth of insight and expertise from their own lives that can only enhance their academic experience,” said Brian Schultz, associate professor and chair, educational inquiry and curriculum studies. “As educators, we’re learning from, as well as alongside, our students.”
Northeastern’s College of Education has earned national recognition and several awards for its Grow Your Own Teachers program. Excelencia in Education named the program among the nation’s top for increasing bachelor’s degree completion among Latinos. The National Association for Multicultural Education selected the program for the 2012 Rose Duhon-Sells Program Award for Multicultural Education, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education recognized the program with the 2012 Best Practice Award in Support of Global Diversity.