Teachers of Color Foundation welcomes its latest graduates

Teachers of Color Foundation alumnus Justine Locke, center, and President Diana White (in blue next to Locke) pose with the foundation’s ewest graduates. L-R: Ricardo Heredia-Romero, D’Mario Carter and Steven Nelson. Locke is now vice principal at Lynnwood High School. The fourth graduate, Michelle Richardson, was unable to attend.

The Edmonds School District’s Teachers of Color Foundation on Thursday welcomed four new graduates of its teacher certification program with a dinner and keynote speakers at Mountlake Terrace’s Lake Ballinger Center.

Ricardo Heredia-Romero, D’Mario Carter, Steven Nelson and Michelle Richardson have earned their teaching certification and will join 16 other teachers who have graduated from the program. During Thursday’s graduation celebration, each of them shared what they learned during their student-teaching experience.

Heredia-Romero said teachers need to understand the youth they’re educating and be supportive. He said it is vital to help the children through the peaks and valleys of life they may find.

“We have to be a bridge for the students,” Heredia-Romero said.

Carter, who started his student teaching with a second-grade class, said the experience was humbling. He was amazed at how many techniques he developed to coax children to do their schoolwork.

Nelson said the schedule was tiring. His day started at 4:30 a.m. and included keeping up with high-energy children. But ultimately, he found the experience rewarding.

Richardson was unable to attend.

The common thread among all the graduates’ experiences was the lack of minority teachers while growing up. Guest speaker Angela Jones, director of the Washington State Initiative for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said she didn’t have a teacher of color until she was in her second year of law school in 2015.

A 2021 national study on grades K-12 from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 45.2% of students were white. Of the remainder, 28.4% were Hispanic, 14.9% Black, 5.4% Asian, 4.6% were two or more races, with 1% American Indian/Alaska Native and 0.4% Pacific Islander. Yet, the organization’s most recent K-12 teacher census showe that 79% of public school teachers were white.

The numbers are similar in the Edmonds School District, said Teachers of Color President Diana White. While approximately 40% to 55% of the district’s students are non-white, just 10% to 12% of the teachers are teachers of color.

According to White, the idea for the Teachers of Color Foundation started in 2014. It gained momentum in 2015 when Alderwood Middle School students staged a walkout,, demanding equity in their teaching staff and curricula. The foundation was officially formed in 2016 and now has a total of 20 graduates and growing.

Edmonds School District employees selected for the program based on their qualifications are awarded full scholarships, support services, mentoring, race and equity training, emergency funding access, professional development and student-teaching stipends. In return, the graduates commit to working in the Edmonds School District for three years.

Jess Zerom found his calling as a teacher after working as a paraeducator at Mountlake Terrace High School.

One of the students chosen for TOC’s next scholarship program is Jesse Zerom, a 2013 Mountlake Terrace High School graduate. Zerom was in nursing school when his brother died in May 2021. He quit school to care for his nieces and nephews.

Mountlake Terrace High School would come back into Zerom’s life when he was told by one of the faculty that he should be a paraeducator. Teaching became his new passion.

Growing up, Zerom said he never had a teacher of color or one that was male. He said he never thought of education as a career path. Being a teacher never came to his mind because he never encountered someone that looked like him in a leadership role.

Zerom said that although he could help save a life as a nurse, there is much emotional strain when you can’t. As a teacher, he said, he can have a lifelong positive impact on a child’s life.

To learn more about the Teachers of Color Foundation and the scholarship program, visit teachersofcolorfoundation.org.

— Story and photos by Rick Sinnett

  1. Congratulations to this year’s graduates! I have so much appreciation for the foundation and the important work being done to increase the number of teachers of color in the district. Providing scholarships and a wide range of support to qualified candidates who are already working in the district and who commit to continued employment in the Edmonds School District following completion of teacher certification is a brilliant model. Continued success to those involved in the TOC Foundation.

  2. Congratulations Jesse! I have known the Zerom family since the late 1990’s. I was one of Jesse’s teachers for many years and was able to see him and his siblings grow into the wonderful people they are today.
    What a great choice selecting Jesse for continued education and a chance to make a difference in children’s lives.
    Nothing but love, high fives, and hugs to Jesse and the Zerom family, Coach Tom Davis
    .

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