For the last 12 years, Kamal Hamdan has had a track record of success in acquiring federal funding for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher preparation programs at California State University, Dominguez Hills that not only prepare individuals with STEM backgrounds to earn their teaching credentials, but also give them valuable classroom teaching experience while doing so, often in the urban school they attended.
Last month, the university received notification from the U.S. Department of Education that Hamdan’s grant application to develop an online teacher preparation program, had been accepted. With a first-year award of $949,430, a total of $5,085,852 over five years, the new five-year Transition to Teaching (TTT) grant will provide online teacher preparation courses for students in urban areas as well as rural communities outside of a CSU’s direct service area.
CSU Dominguez Hills is among only five institutions in the entire state to receive this grant and one of only two CSUs; CSU Fullerton will receive $421,333. Hamdan, a former LAUSD math teacher, says that his proposal of online teacher preparation for rural areas is the only program that provides such training for STEM majors who aspire to become single-subject teachers, and that the Department of Education recognized its innovative nature. The result: CSU Dominguez Hills is the only institution in the nation to receive five distinct Transition to Teaching grants, each five years long, over the past 10 years.
“To be considered for another grant from the same source, you would have to change the scope of what you are proposing and work with new partners,” he says. “We were able to do that very, very well.”
“As a leader in teacher education, CSU Dominguez Hills is proud to be the only campus in the nation to receive five different TTT awards since 2001,” says President Mildred García. “This grant will allow CSU Dominguez Hills to extend our commitment to our community and the state by supporting the recruitment and retention of highly qualified mid-career professionals and recent college graduates that mirror the diversity of California school children as they transition into teaching in our local school districts and charter schools, as well as schools in other rural and urban areas.”
Hamdan says that CSU Dominguez Hills was instrumental in fulfilling the CSU Chancellor’s commitment to double the number of math and science credentials in five years and holds the number one spot in graduation rates for the years 2006 to 2011, with a total of 570 new teachers in that period.
“We were the first CSU to double our numbers in less than the five years,” he says. “We doubled ours after two years and tripled that eventually.”
Hamdan says that the new online program will be administered in local schools throughout 20 districts that have a high need for qualified math and science teachers in Los Angeles and remote areas of central California, and Imperial County. As with TTT’s training and placement of student teachers in the schools that they themselves attended, he is confident that the new crop of teachers will eventually work where they are most needed.
“This allows teacher candidates who are from these areas to stay, teach, and complete the credential requirements while they’re in those areas,” he says. “It makes it much more convenient versus districts having to recruit from far away, to bring in [teachers] who might not stay. There will be teachers who know the area and most likely, have graduated from those schools as well.”
Much of the success of the TTT cohorts at CSU Dominguez Hills lies in educating students to go back to their communities to teach. Kekai Bryant-Williams, an alumna of Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, now teaches math there.
“It feels sort of weird because a lot of my old teachers are still there —where Kamal Hamdan was also my former math teacher—but I truly love it,” she says. “This is my fifth year at Washington Prep. Although the students are uniquely different from when I attended here, I still feel a connection to them being that I once sat in their seats and walked in their shoes.”
Bryant-Williams, who currently serves as a mentor teacher for another program Hamdan oversees, the Urban Teacher Resident Program, says that TTT’s program was tailored to her needs and the needs of her fellow students, and helped to build their confidence in their chosen careers.
“TTT [held] our evening classes at convenient locations off the CSU Dominguez Hills campus and also tailored their program around our teaching obligations,” she says. “Ultimately, even as a teaching intern, TTT made me feel confident with my lesson plans and other teacher preparations before I even stepped inside of the classroom.
“TTT feels more like a family as opposed to a program that you commit to for one year and never look back,” Bryant-Williams says. “[The staff] seems to always be there for us with their support, patience and presence. I have respect for any teacher who says they have also been through the TTT program because it tells me that they became teachers for all the right reasons.”
Bridget Fredrickson, who graduated last spring from TTT, teaches science at South Region High School #2 in Los Angeles. She says that she owes her teaching career to Hamdan and his faculty and staff, who made it possible for her to gain teaching skills and experience in a timely and efficient way, with little impact on her budget.
“[TTT] made it possible for me to focus on my teaching during the day,and [take] classes at night. The fact that I was earning a salary teaching as well as taking my credential classes at night saved my family from heartache in my first year of teaching.”
Fredrickson, who achieved a 4.0 GPA, says that she and several other TTT alumni were hired at the brand new school after one of the principals heard her speak on her experience in the cohort.
“TTT teachers are creating a postiive reputation around the school districts,” she says. When a school hires a TTT teacher, they know that they will be getting the cream of the crop, [with a] teacher who is highly qualified, responsible, [and] will lead their students to achieve their highest goals.”