NEWARK, N.J. - About 34 students are enrolled in the Red Hawks Rising Teacher Training Academy at Eastside High in Newark. The program prepares students of color to become teachers of color to fully reflect the diversity of the Newark community.
Christopher Cruz explained why he joined.
"I'm first generation here so pretty much I want to inspire the youth that if I can do it, they can do it as well," he said.
"I've been teaching for 22 years in inner-city schools," Erika Plumey said. "I understand that representation is important."
Students enter the program freshman year. During their junior year, they begin additional course training with professors from Montclair State University. They will earn 30 college credits along with admission to Montclair State.
The university takes care of tuition for graduates of the program. And the Newark Board of Education has guaranteed them a $50,000 contract to come back to Newark to teach the next generation.
Melissa De Almeida, 17, said the prospect of that job contract was part of her motivation.
"Everybody struggles with money, it's not like we're rich," she said. "We already live in such a low-income community so having that extra help."
The American Federation of Teachers is giving each student a stipend $1,200 for the spring session and $2,500 for the summer session to encourage the students to stay in the program.
"Newark has had a teacher shortage for a long time," AFT President Randi Weingarten told FOX 5 NY. "And separate and apart from a teacher shortage, we've all wanted to make sure that we diversify our pipeline."
Student Zeana Fortes said that having teachers who look like you and come from the same community is really important.
"You can relate to them on a different level than a teacher who hasn't necessarily grown up in Newark or hasn't been a part of your same community," Fortes said.