Answering a great need in the desert region of Riverside County, UC Riverside has started a teacher education program at its campus in Palm Desert in collaboration with Coachella Valley Unified School District.
Called Supporting Teacher Education through Partnerships, or STEP, the partnership prepares highly qualified teachers in multiple subjects in a region where teachers are in short supply.
The first class this fall has six students, and UCR’s School of Education is working to grow the program to about 50 students in the next two or three years. These future teachers will be in addition to about 120 students enrolled in the teacher education program on the university’s main campus in Riverside.
“With this expansion, we aim to bring our strong reputation to prepare future educators in the Coachella Valley to be critical thinkers and well-rounded educators who address the needs of all students in culturally responsive ways,” said Frances Valdovinos, assistant dean and director of teacher education at UCR’s School of Education.
“The expansion into the Coachella Valley will focus on increasing and strengthening the teacher pipeline, diversifying the teacher pool, and closing opportunity and academic achievement gaps persistent in the region,” she said.
In its partnership with UCR, the Coachella Valley school district provides experienced mentor teachers to coach student teachers in classroom settings, giving them hands-on training and critical feedback.
This school district includes the city of Coachella and the farming communities of Thermal and Mecca. The students are 97% Latino, 2% other people of color, and 1% white. Many come from families that have emigrated from Latin American countries to work in the vast agricultural region of the Coachella and Imperial valleys. This farmland is an essential economic engine that provides the United States with fresh fruits and vegetables, including in the winter months, when most other U.S. farms are too cold grow crops.
The need is great: The Coachella Valley Unified hired 76 teachers for the current school year and is still recruiting for another 27 positions. The nearby Palm Springs Unified School District hired 134 teachers for this school year and has 12 openings in early November. And the neighboring Desert Sands Unified School District hired 143 and now has 32 vacancies.
“Together, Coachella Valley USD and UCR are forging a path to brighter futures with STEP as we embark on a journey to address teacher shortages and empower our community through education,” said Adonis Galarza, the CVUSD board president.
Luis R. Valentino, the district’s superintendent, added: “In partnership with UCR, Coachella Valley's STEP initiative is sowing the seeds of educational excellence and local employment opportunities, nurturing a brighter future for our community and our state.”
The first group of future teachers at the Palm Desert campus are all students of color, come from diverse backgrounds, and bring significant cultural and community knowledge to the program, Valdovinos said.
“They all have unique circumstances and are aware of the community needs in the Coachella Valley area,” Valdovinos said. “Half of them are pursuing a bilingual authorization, which means that they want to teach in a dual immersion classroom. So, they're meeting the need of not only becoming teachers but also the need for many bilingual teachers in the area.”