By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor
“We don’t want any students of color to feel they don’t have the opportunity,” says Angelica Johnson, recently appointed coordinator for the Lourdes University Like Me Program.
This fall the first cohort of students enrolled in Lourdes’ Like Me Program will enter the university and begin an educational process designed to place them in teaching roles in Toledo-area school systems at the end of those four years.
To that end, says Johnson, the program recruits “marginalized students,” that is, students of color who might otherwise not be able to afford the $40,000 annual price tag of Lourdes University.
“We don’t want any students of color to feel they don’t have the opportunity,” she explains.
Lourdes, over the years, has observed the problem in the classrooms of the United States where an increasing number of the students are students of color are enrolled and a small percentage of teachers look like those students. The university, says Johnson, reached “an understanding of the disparity and the fact that nothing was being done about it.”
According to federal data, in the 2015-16 school year, over 80 percent of teachers were white and less than eight percent were Black. Meanwhile, the white student population has steadily declined since 2000—from 61 percent to 44 percent in 2017—while the Hispanic student population rose by 50 percent since 1997 and the Asian student population by 46 percent. Black students comprise about 15 percent of all K-12 students—although they increasingly attend schools with at least 75 percent non-white enrollment, as do Hispanic and Native American students: 58, 60, and 30 percent, respectively, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Part of the solution, it was determined at Lourdes, was to bring in students of color who are determined to go back into their communities as teachers.
According to research, as noted in a report by the Learning Policy Institute, for example, all students benefit from having teachers of color. When students of color are taught by teachers of color, they tend to have better academic performance, improved graduation rates and are more likely to attend college.
Specifically, with Black students, The Center for American Progress has provided research that demonstrates that Black teachers are more likely than non-black teachers to have a higher opinion of Black students’ academic abilities and are also less likely than non-black teachers to perceive Black students’ behavior as “disruptive.”
All students, regardless of race, report feeling cared for and academically challenged by teachers of color, according to the Learning Policy Institute report.
Lourdes University developed its program while working with area school districts – Toledo Public Schools, Washington Local Schools, Springfield Public Schools and Sylvania Public Schools – to not only offer such students an affordable education ($1,500 for academic year for this first cohort) but also to provide them with jobs upon graduation.
“We want to be able to help them financially – without loan debt – and guarantee them a job,” says Johnson.
The mission of the Like Me Program as mentioned in the description is “to attract, prepare and mentor students of color to obtain employment … in order to address the large disparity between students of color and teachers of color.”
In order to ensure that students in the cohort are prepared for future employment, the four district partners are doing more than offering employment, they are also actively participating in the education process by providing teacher mentors.
“All in all, we recruit, mentor and advise,” says Johnson, who will be overseeing a program designed “to make sure students will graduate.”
Angelica Johnson holds a bachelor’s of science in Life Science degree from Bowling Green State University and a master’s of arts in Counselor Education from the University of Toledo. She is pursuing a doctorate degree in Foundation of Education at UT. She has presented scholarly work at the M.O.R.E. Institute and was nominated for the 20 Under 40 Awards in 2021.
Before she arrived at Lourdes, Johnson was the program director for UT’s Multicultural Emerging Scholars Program and Giving Learning Community. Her primary duties at UT involved diversity training for staff.
“Now I can work with students,” she says of her new position at Lourdes. In fact, Lourdes offers Johnson the opportunity not only to work with students in a program “for students of color,” but also to work at a place that by its very nature, by its spirituality as a religious institution, “means a lot to me,” she notes.
“Using that spirituality is a value and a virtue that was allowed to me,” she says of the attraction the university, which is rooted in the Catholic and Franciscan traditions, holds for her.
According to a description provided by Lourdes, the institution is, because of those traditions, committed to supporting students “in fulfilling their potential.”
Angelica Johnson is just as committed to the task of ensuring that Lourdes’ students of color get into K-12 classrooms, at the head of those classrooms.