In January, Colorado Sen. Rachel Zenzinger voiced concerns about teachers leaving the profession, but the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education saw a 16% increase in teaching candidates for 2020-2021.
Denver7 spoke to two students at the Center for Urban Education, which allows students to gain experience working in Denver schools. Belen Gomez Ruelas, a sophomore, teaches kindergarten at Garden Place Academy. During this challenging year, she saw her students and her own children fall behind.
“They lost everything — their letter sounds, their letter formations. I have two children and they fell behind in their reading and writing,” Gomez Ruelas said.
Morgan Farley, a senior at the Center for Urban Education, works in early childhood at Ashley Elementary. She said the virus is concerning, but she saw the value of having in-person teachers in the classroom.
As a Spanish speaker of Mexican descent, Gomez Ruelas said she also believes schools need teachers like her who can relate to the students.
“I have a lot of students who speak Spanish and having a teacher who doesn’t speak their language and can’t communicate with them at all — it’s very traumatizing for them,” she said.
Farley, a Black woman, said she noticed that teachers didn’t usually look like her. She said students and parents need to feel comfortable with their teacher, and employing teachers of color is a big part of ensuring that.
“It just makes a difference, with parents as well," she said. "I want (them) to know I have (their) children’s best interests in mind."
Rosanne Fulton, director of the Center for Urban Education, said Denver schools have encouraged higher education to recruit more diverse teacher candidates. The large majority of their 2020-2021 class are women. But a growing number are men and women of color.
Farley said she hopes to follow in the footsteps of two of her grandmothers who both broke barriers as teachers in her native California. Gomez Ruelas said her first goal is to be able to hug her kindergarten students again.
Both said they’re ready for the challenges of teaching a generation of students affected by the pandemic.
“I want to be one of the first to be there to step up and help the students,” said Gomez Ruelas.