Sirtify cultivates Black male teachers to increase representation in K-12 classrooms

September 16, 2022
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As enrollees in the Sirtify program, Black male students aspiring to be K-12 educators participated in a spring retreat at Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington, Minn. The students reviewed classroom case studies to help them confront microaggressions, the verbal or nonverbal slights that impact an individual who might identify as a Black male. Next, they worked through the vocabulary to use in the future if challenged with the insensitive behavior.

According to the most recent data available, 101,388 of the 870,506 students enrolled in Minnesota schools in the 2019-2020 school year (11.6%) were Black/African American, but only 1,521 of Minnesota’s K-12 teachers holding a license (1.5%) were Black/African American.1,2

“Black male teachers make up less than 1% of the teacher workforce in Minnesota, yet their presence in the classroom is shown to improve outcomes for students” said Marvis Kilgore, Sirtify program coordinator. “Sirtify builds competencies that go beyond what education courses offer, allowing students to build a repertoire of skills needed in the classroom.”

The Prime Together Foundation selected the Normandale Community College Foundation (NCCF) as one of its first grant recipients for its work to close equity gaps. In addition to funding Sirtify, NCCF has raised funds for a wide range of scholarships, enabling thousands of Normandale Community College (Normandale) students to stay enrolled in college and achieve their goals. In response to a 2018 survey showing 35% of students experienced food insecurity the previous 30 days, NCCF is broadening its focus to include ending student hunger. It is also developing a mentorship program that matches Normandale alumni and other working professionals with Normandale students.

Value of a cohort model
A 2017 study by the Institute of Labor Economics found that Black students who have a Black teacher for at least one year in elementary school are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to consider college. The mission of the Sirtify program is to recruit and support Black, African American, and African men into elementary and secondary education pathways. Program enrollees include traditional and non-traditional students, some from immigrant backgrounds and others who together make up the totality of the Black male community in the Twin Cities area and beyond. Kilgore notes that students don’t start in the same place academically, but all enroll in the same required courses, and all are working together toward a common goal of becoming educators.

“The dual pandemics of 2020 caused people to act,” added Kilgore. “And now I want to keep Black men at the forefront of people’s minds and continue the pressing conversations about systemic issues impacting them particularly as it relates to education.”

Like many people spurred to action in 2020, Jason Moore, assistant vice president, client engagement for Prime Therapeutics (Prime), began serving as a member of the NCCF board of directors. Moore sees board service as an excellent way to match his passions to giving back to his community. “NCCF is doing a great job meeting students’ needs holistically, from providing a food pantry on campus to combat food insecurity, to offering inspiring types of programs that increase representation such as Sirtify,” said Moore. “I’ve had the opportunity to do some hands-on volunteering with a laptop giveaway, and during the pandemic I helped fulfill ‘touchless’ textbook orders to support students and keep them safe.”

Inspiring a future generation
Some of Normandale’s neighboring K-12 school districts have hired Sirtify students as paraprofessionals using state sponsored grants and/or have financially supported their transition to a four-year institution. “The majority of men are working fathers, so this type of support has a huge economic impact in their households,” said Kilgore. “When kids see their dads in college, dinner conversations take on a new narrative – one of academic excellence, persistence and resilience.”

Kilgore, who’s most proud of the program’s growth, said Sirtify has far exceeded its recruitment and retention goals. Kilgore added, “As I look toward this academic year, my goal is to retain 100% of the students we have. We’re working on modules to address holistic wellness and balance. We aim to equip our future educators with the necessary tools and skills to show up for their students in a way they can be proud of.”

Hear more about the Sirtify program’s goals of cultivating Black male teachers and closing equity gaps by making it easier for them to attend college.

Learn more about the Prime Together Foundation’s mission to work with communities to address inequality and injustice in all its manifestations, particularly racism, poverty, health and hunger.

  1. Minnesota Department of Education. Minnesota Report Card.–3. Accessed Sept. 13, 2022.
  2. Biennial Report of Supply & Demand of Teachers in Minnesota. Accessed Sept. 13, 2022.

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