Denver seeks to boost recruitment of bilingual teachers by reaching out to international candidates

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When Denver Superintendent Alex Marrero was asked to be part of a panel organized by the government of the Dominican Republic last year to showcase the school district’s strategy for bilingual education, he revealed that many teachers inquired about potential opportunities to work with him.

Marrero returned to Denver with the optimistic expectation that around 30 new teachers would join to fill the bilingual teaching positions. However, despite their interest, only a few of those educators are now employed in Denver Public Schools.

Concerned about this, Marrero tasked the district’s human resources team to investigate the reasons behind the discrepancy. According to Marrero, several teachers expressed apprehension about the shift, citing insufficient support as a major barrier.

Consequently, this academic year saw the launch of the International Educators Institute by Denver Public Schools. The institute aims to offer not only professional but also personal assistance to new international teachers, guiding them on housing options, financial matters, emotional support, credentials acquisition, and understanding the school system in Denver.

Denver Public Schools has seen an influx of thousands of new students from South America, prompting Marrero to emphasize the necessity and significance of the International Educators Institute’s role. Additionally, the district’s compliance with a court order on teaching non-English proficient students requires a substantial number of bilingual teachers, creating ongoing vacancies.

The primary objective of the institute is to fill these vacancies without disrupting the existing recruitment efforts.

Denver Public Schools caters to 88,200 students, with 75% representing students of color. However, among the 6,000+ teachers, only about one-third are educators of color. Marrero envisions a future system where students benefit from more diverse educators, enabling teachers to advance in their careers and improve their lives.

Furthermore, Marrero highlighted the institute’s role in enabling teachers to assist children globally even if they return to their home countries.

“That’s what hasn’t existed ever,” Marrero emphasized regarding the institute. “Just like we say we have to educate the whole student, it’s the same approach. The parallel is that we have to support the whole educator.”

To initiate the institute, Marrero used $500,000 from federal COVID relief funds, with an additional commitment of at least $1 million from the district’s general budget.

Challenges Faced by International Teachers

Maria Moncada Rodriguez, an international educator from Honduras, has been in Colorado for four years. However, she began teaching in Denver schools for the first time this academic year.

She praised the support received from her colleagues and the institute, expressing the wish for similar assistance when she initially arrived in the U.S. to teach in a different school district.

Moncada Rodriguez and her husband operated a Montessori school in Honduras for over 20 years. Escalating violence in the country led her to seek refuge, and winning a contest provided her the opportunity to teach in Colorado.

While her family eventually joined her in Colorado, it took her husband over a year and a half to secure a work permit. During this period, Moncada Rodriguez faced financial challenges with only her income supporting the family.

Despite the hardships, she acknowledged their safety and expressed gratitude for that aspect.

Joining Denver Public Schools enabled her to connect with international teachers and organizations through the institute and teachers union.

Recently, after meeting other international teachers, they decided to create a guide for newly arrived educators, offering information on various essential services and support networks.

“We need all types of information,” Moncada Rodriguez stressed.

The support provided by the district’s institute aligns with their endeavor.

Denver’s Aspiration: 120 New International Teachers Next Year

As Denver Public Schools introduced support measures and launched the institute this year, they recruited 64 new visa-sponsored teachers, bringing the total of international teachers with work visas to 234. The goal for the upcoming school year is to hire 120 new international teachers.

The district intends to utilize a portion of the institute’s $1.5 million budget for international outings to facilitate recruitment efforts, connect with teachers, and provide assistance in finding resources.

Securing affordable housing for teachers is crucial, with Marrero emphasizing the importance but refraining from direct property management.

“There is a healthy way to engage, but there’s also a lot to be said when you have a little bit of separation,” Marrero remarked. Teachers do not wish to feel controlled by the district.

The district is exploring partnerships with developers, landlords, and municipal authorities. For instance, they successfully negotiated reduced leasing costs for teachers from the Dominican Republic this year.

“That’s leveraging our existing relationships and our position,” Marrero explained. “Even if it’s just a building. Saying: ‘Can we have X amount of units that we have first dibs on?’ That’s what I’m looking to explore.”

Moncada Rodriguez continues seeking resources independently. One unresolved concern is funding her eldest child’s college education since they cannot qualify for financial aid due to their visa status.

“Of course we aren’t asking for everything to come easy or handed to us,” she acknowledged. “We love to work and study. But coming here and knowing our kids can’t go to university because of a lack of resources is overwhelming.”

Nevertheless, she encourages prospective teachers to persist, believing that situations can improve, and hopes for increased local support.

Working at Academia Ana Marie Sandoval, she appreciates utilizing her Montessori experience to educate students from low-income backgrounds and values her Spanish proficiency.

Her interactions with fellow teachers, the institute, and training courses provided by Denver Public Schools have been beneficial in her journey.

“Now the only thing missing is how to get a master’s degree,” she remarked. “I’m working on that next.”

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