Missouri organization received $250,000 to help with teacher wellness efforts

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Eight organizations across the country received a grant to help improve teacher well-being. One of the lucky winners is Kansas City-based Brothers Liberating Our Communities, otherwise known as BLOC.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, started by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, awarded the grants as part of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Photo courtesy of Brothers Liberating Our Communities

The grant comes at a time when Missouri teachers are one of the lowest paid in the country. They had to deal with an unprecedented workload caused by the pandemic. And don’t forget the political attacks against them. These challenges have led some teachers to pick up their apples and go home.

BLOC creates spaces to help teachers deal with stress and burnout, while working to increase the number of black men in classrooms.

Missouri’s teaching staff is made up of approximately 70,000 K-12 educators. The population is predominantly female and predominantly white.

The grant will support a range of professional learning, mentoring, and well-being practices designed to foster connection and community for teachers, support teacher retention, and build teacher capacity to support academic achievement and well-being. – to be students.

Cornell Ellis, founder and executive director of BLOC, says the grant means the world to him and his organization.

“It means everything to my students. It means everything to their families, because we are literally creating opportunity,” Ellis said. “We are able to act as sort of these third-party buffers for black educators who are looking to stay in education but need something else, but need to defend themselves, but need a little more development , but just need a shoulder to lean on.

Ellis says BLOC is a pipeline for talking about real problems and creating real solutions. The organization is built on three main pillars to retain and support black men in education: Connect, Grow, and Engage.

After a few years of work behind the scenes, BLOC officially launched in 2020. Receiving this significant grant so early in its launch is noteworthy.

Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizard, vice president of practice research, with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, says BLOC is the first Missouri organization she knows of to receive a grant from her organization.

She says CZI values ​​innovation and leadership.

“We are investing in Cornell for these two reasons,” she said. “We looked at organizations that were focusing on these kinds of strategies that we know work, creating intentional communities for educators to connect, thinking about how we leverage mentorship opportunities, and helping teachers of color to feel connected in this profession and connected to everyone. other. Also, these effective professional development opportunities. And so, BLOC has met those requirements and we are excited to invest in an early-stage organization that we know is doing what needs to be done for male teachers of color in this country.

She says empowering teachers to take a whole-child approach to education is essential, as she says learning and well-being are inextricably linked.

“When children feel safe, seen and connected, we know it sets them up for success and learning. This also applies to teachers,” Stafford-Brizard said. “Teachers must feel the same. And given that it’s the start of Mental Health Awareness Month and last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, we know how important it is to recognize this work. We know this is especially important for teachers of color. You know, teachers of color are important and impact every child in this country. The research is clear, the data is clear, and it has an outsized impact on students of color, yet only 2% of our teachers are black men. And that’s why it’s so important that we invest in organizations like BLOC. And we can address incredibly high rates of teacher stress and burnout through models like BLOC where we focus on intentional spaces, to connect teachers to powerful scholarships, and opportunities for mentorship and high-quality professional development that increases the retention of these phenomenal educators. ”

Ellis says he hopes part of the grant will also help bring more black substitute teachers into the classroom.

“I see our scholarship program as a pipeline, directly injecting black men we see everywhere in school buildings. If you walk into a school building today, you see a black man in the security office. You see a black coach in sport,” he said. “You see black male advisers. You see black men walking the halls as mentors, but you don’t see black men teaching math. You don’t see black men teaching AP English, do you? And so yes, when you think of substitute teachers, those who aren’t fully certified or those who don’t have the necessary pedigrees in many public districts. The BLOC has those connections and those resources, so we are able to bring them into the classroom full-time, if that’s what they want.

The other organizations that received a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative grant this year are in Michigan, Tennessee and North Carolina.

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