Fairfield’s School of Education and Human Development is finding solutions to the national teacher shortage.
According to recent data, public school education in the United States is in crisis. Last year, a National Center for Education Statistics survey of nine-year-old students showed “the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first-ever score decline in mathematics.”
Meanwhile, school systems are struggling to attract and retain qualified teachers and other professionals. In a national survey by Education Week, nearly three-quarters of principals and district officials said they began this school year understaffed.
“This is a societal crisis, it’s not just an educational crisis, and we all have to care about this,” said Evelyn Bilias Lolis, PhD, MA’02, interim dean of Fairfield’s School of Education and Human Development (SEHD).
For those who do wish to make an entry into the field — to find a livelihood that’s both challenging and inspiring — Fairfield University’s SEHD has risen as a leader, helping its students find paths in education that lead to rewarding careers.
Recently, two Fairfield SEHD alumni made headlines for making a difference: William King MA’15, and Jessica Baldizon MA’15, both graduates of the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program.
King was recognized as recipient of a 2023 Bridgeport Public Education Fund Inspiration Award for Outstanding Teaching. He is a mentor to his students at Central High School in Bridgeport, Conn., where he teaches English as a second language (ESL) and serves as the ESL department coordinator.
“To me, this recognition means that my students’ voices are being heard,” said King. “When we think of adolescents it’s difficult to imagine the power of their words and so I feel responsible to carry the messages of younger generations. I feel grateful for the opportunity to echo my students’ voices.”
Baldizon was a 2022 Inspiration Awardwinner and this year received the 2023 Theodore and Margaret Beard Award, which provides a $20,000 unrestricted gift to an annual recipient through the Fairfield County Community Foundation, in partnership with the Bridgeport Public Education Fund.
For eight years since graduating from Fairfield, Baldizon has taught English to multilingual learners in grades three, four, and six at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport, Conn., the second-largest pre-K-8 school in the state.
For Baldizon, being recognized is not only a reflection of her efforts but also a nod to the support of the individuals and communities that have encouraged her along the way. “The Beard Award formally recognizes the tremendous amount of energy I’ve put into becoming a teacher,” she said. “It acknowledges all the people — family and mentors — and moments that have brought me to the present day.”
Another of Baldizon’s affiliations is with The Connecticut Writing Project’s Ubuntu Academy at Fairfield, a two-week summer writing course designed for immigrant and refugee youth in grades nine through 12. She also runs Little Labs for Big Imaginations, a Connecticut Writing Project program for students in fifth through third grade. “By being involved in so many different communities, I’ve been able to have a more enriching career,” Baldizon said.
The SEHD, formerly known as the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions began as a teacher certification program in 1950 and officially expanded into a graduate school in 1963.
Students in the school can specialize in tracks such as educational technology, elementary/secondary education, and bilingual education, or become dually certified in two of these areas. Most recently, the SEHD began offering a Doctorate of Education (EdD) in Educational Leadership program: a three-year, online, low-residency doctoral program with a focus on leadership and social justice.
Additionally, the SEHD offers paid internships with salaries up to $30,000 for students in the Teacher Preparation program, as well as other graduate assistantship and scholarship opportunities.
“Teacher Preparation programs in the SEHD prepare reflective educators who enter the workforce with the highest level of competence and the deepest level of care for others,” said Dr. Bilias Lolis. She went on to describe how SEHD is dedicated to meeting students’ needs – particularly those who want to get into the field as a second career.
“We need to make [teaching] accessible for people who want to enter this career,” she said. “They don’t all enter from undergrad. Becoming a teacher is going to check many boxes that the science of well-being and happiness tells us are meaningful, and there are opportunities opening up every single day.”
Learn more at fairfield.edu/SEHD.