As dean of American University’s School of Education (SOE), Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy has a driving passion to directly impact the state of education in Washington, DC. “Our school’s faculty aren’t only interested in doing research and evaluation,” she said. “They are also passionate about collaborating with our colleagues in schools in DC and around the globe to develop new strategies, build innovative curricula and policies, and most important, to bring DC students and teachers to campus for new learning experiences.”
“We aren’t interested in being in an ivory tower doing research,” she said. “We are in partnership with the city and committed to improving the educational experience for students on every level.”
Two programs speak to that goal: AU District Scholars and the AU Teacher Pipeline Project. Established in 2019, District Scholars offers high-achieving DC students with significant financial need a full scholarship covering tuition, room, and board. The university dedicated $3 million to fund the program, which benefits the DC community by supporting local students as they pursue their educational goals close to home.
Creating a path for DC students to excel in their home city is one part of a two-pronged initiative. Encouraging those students to pursue careers in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) is the other component. SOE seeks to impact two issues: a shortage of highly qualified teachers in DC and the need for a diverse, antiracist, and culturally responsive teaching pool. Creating new, more flexible pathways for students with personal ties to the community to enter the profession will enhance teacher retention rates and better address education disparities.
Holcomb-McCoy knows that recruiting and retaining Black and Brown teachers is a concern in the District. Despite DC teacher salaries averaging $78,477, according to a survey by business.org, “we are still losing diverse teachers at a crazy rate; something like 19% of Black DC teachers, compared to 15% of DC White teachers, leave the teaching profession every year” she said.
“Students of color, by and large, don’t see teaching as a preferred career early on in their career exploration,” Holcomb-McCoy said. “What was once a revered occupation somehow became not a first choice.” To change that, the AU/DCPS Teacher Pipeline Project offers an education-focused dual enrollment opportunity for DC seniors and full scholarships to a select group of DC high school students to become AU Teaching Fellows. The students can earn a bachelor’s degree in education at no cost, in exchange for becoming a DCPS teacher.
- Ruby King Bush Scholarship Fund
- Wes and Natalie Bush, through the Golden Paws Foundation
The program, funded by AU supporters like university trustee Wes Bush and his wife, Natalie, who endowed the Ruby King Bush Scholarship through their Golden Paws Foundation, is making a difference. “We introduce the idea of an education career to high school students through a 12th grade dual enrollment experience,” Holcomb-McCoy said. Recruiting starts in 11th grade, with seniors able to take two three-credit courses at AU that count towards their degree. If students want to pursue a degree in teaching and teach in DCPS, then they can apply to be an AU Teaching Fellow, which is a full scholarship to pursue a degree in teaching, with eligibility to teach in DCPS upon graduation.
The program is seeking additional funding to expand its capacity. Currently serving 10 dual enrollment scholarships and 2-3 teaching fellows scholarships, it has the potential to more than double in size.
Current undergraduate student Chloe Ifill is a Ruby King Bush Scholarship recipient. The DC native is pursuing a BA in teacher education, with an emphasis in English literature. Chloe wants to be a DCPS English teacher.
“I believe it is a part of my destiny to become a teacher,” she said. “Philanthropy is making that dream a reality.”