Photo: Gabriela Peden, Olivia Servantes and Janae Adams 

With support from The Oregon Department of Education and the Educator Advancement Council, 30 Central Oregon candidates have taken steps towards obtaining or advancing their degrees in education. The Grow Your Own/Teacher Pathways grant, awarded to the High Desert Education Service District in 2021 and again in 2022, is designed to recruit and train teachers from within local communities to bring racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity and skills such as bilingualism into schools. 

“We have a critical need to bring more teachers and administrators of color into our Central Oregon Schools,” said Kathy McCollum, director of alternative learning for the High Desert Education Service District. “It’s so important for our educators and school leaders to look like our student population.”  

According to the EAC’s 2020 Oregon Educator Report, Oregon’s growing student diversity continues to outpace the incremental increases in educator diversity. And the positive impacts of educator diversity on academic achievement and social and emotional development for Black, Brown, and Indigenous students, as well as their white peers are many. The overarching impact is creating culturally sustaining and racially affirming practices and teaching/learning environments.

The Grow Your Own/Teacher Pathway grants, which are being allocated throughout Oregon and several other states in the U.S., are primarily used to provide scholarships for school staff and community members interested in becoming certified teachers. Candidates often include paraprofessionals or teachers with limited teaching certificates, and the programs are typically offered as alternative pathways in which candidates work as teachers as they earn their teaching credentials.

Grow Your Own/Teacher Pathway programs also typically involve partnerships between schools, districts, community organizations, and teacher preparation programs. In Central Oregon, HDESD is partnering with nine universities including Oregon State University-Cascades, Central Oregon Community College and George Fox University.

Oregon teacher diversity

According to the 2020 Oregon Educator Equity Report, in 2019/2021, Oregon’s ethnically and linguistically diverse student population was approximately 38%, while ethnically and linguistically diverse teachers make up less than 12% of the teacher workforce and for administrators, that number is 12.5%. In Central Oregon, the ethnically and linguistically diverse student and educator populations vary in each county: 

  • Crook County School District: 22% students of color with 7% teachers of color.
  • Bend-La Pine School District: 19% students of color with 7% teachers of color.
  • Jefferson County School District 509J: 71% students of color with 9% teachers of color. 

JCSD 509J has applied for and received its own Grow Your Own/Teacher Pathway grant funding as well.

With support from the Grow Your Own/Teacher Pathways grant, Central Oregon is actively working to shift these numbers. Among our amazing candidates are Janae Adams, Gabriela Peden and Olivia Servantes.

Janae Adams: A new Warm Springs 5th grade teacher

Janae Adams, a 23-year-old resident of Warm Springs, completed her Bachelor of Science Degree in elementary education in April of 2022. She began the program in August of 2020 and has persevered through a number of challenges, including raising a toddler during the pandemic, and an on-going water crisis in her community.

“The most challenging thing about my experience so far has been all of the things that come along with living in my community of Warm Springs. The daycare closures due to heating/cooling issues in the facility, a boil water notice or no water at all, and COVID exposures. All of these closures often left me in my home with a very busy 2 year old, which makes it hard to get schoolwork done,” said Adams. “There has also been the challenge of no reliable internet connections in Warm Springs. When classes were virtual, I would sit in my car, parked outside of the Warm Springs Academy from 6 to 10 pm in order to attend my classes. I often had to sit in my car in the parking lot late at night to complete assignments. I had no time during the day to find a place to do my work because of daycare closures, and after my son went to bed was the only time I was able to work. With no internet at home, I had to park at the one building in Warm Springs that offers good Wi-Fi.”

While obtaining her degree, Adams managed a full-time 5th grade teaching position at Warm Springs K-8 Academy under an emergency teaching license. Adams explained that the George Fox elementary education program was key to her success.

“George Fox has been amazing in every way possible. All of the instructors have been very supportive and understanding of the challenges I have faced throughout the program. The group of instructors at George Fox really wants everyone to succeed, and they go to great lengths to support each and every student,” she said.

When asked what she’s most looking forward to after completing the program, she said she hopes to catch her breath and focus on her two-year-old son and students.

“When I’m not stressing about assignment due dates and the barriers I have to work around to complete assignments, I will be in a better headspace to give my 22 students, and my son, the love and attention they deserve. I’m so ready to be a better teacher and mom!,” said Adams.

Gabriela Peden: Building on existing skills

For Gabriela Peden, an Associates of Arts degree helped strengthen the work she is leading to empower Spanish-speaking families with early literacy and school readiness skills. As the program manager for HDESD’s Juntos Apprendemos, a Spanish language pre-school program that serves 60 students and their families in Central Oregon, Peden applied for the Grow Your Own scholarship because she was interested in expanding her expertise.

On top of her full-time job, and raising two young children, Peden took on the challenge during what turned out to be some of the most difficult times of life.

“It felt like it took forever to finish the program because I could only take one or two classes at a time. During that time, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Seven months after his treatment was over, my uncle died from Covid and six months later, my grandma passed away too. So the emotional and mental strain this took on me made it feel like I should just quit school,” said Peden. “Regardless, I kept going because I had amazing instructors who showed a lot of flexibility and support to finish what I had started. The Teacher Pathway grant really supported me through my last terms of college.”

Olivia Servantes: Obtaining a Special Education endorsement following an advanced degree

At a time when there is a national shortage of special education teachers, Olivia Servantes applied for the Grow Your Own/Teacher Pathway scholarship to obtain a special education endorsement. She completed George Fox University’s Special Education Endorsement program in two Semesters (spring and summer) while teaching full-time and managing an exceptionally full schedule. 

Having previously obtained her Masters degree with a focus on childhood development and education from OSU-Cascades, she was able to transfer many of her credits to George Fox and access support with the tuition and application process and a computer.

The Teacher Pathway grant removed many barriers that would have put me past the threshold of having such a full schedule and going to college at the same time. They also provided me with a level of respect and support in cheering me on through such a challenging endeavor,” said Servantes. 

She also explained that she is looking forward to not working under a conditional license.

“I will have the credentials required to serve a very special population of students. I will have an endorsement that will provide my family with the job security and financial support we need to thrive,” said Servantes. “Because of the Teacher Pathway grant, I am able to bring a level of excellence to my teaching team as well as the special education department. The caliber of education I received through George Fox University has set me apart from educators who have received their education through out-of-state online programs. I was educated in SPED practices from Oregon teachers, professors who spent many years in the classroom and who are experts in their fields of education. Often, I would use forms, implement ideas from a college class, and troubleshoot specific needs of my students the same week the information was presented from professors and teachers around the state in my program.”

Efforts and opportunities to inspire and support the future teacher workforce to continue in the years ahead.

While current funding expires in august 2022, EAC is coming out with additional funds for 2023 and 2024. HDESD plans to apply for additional funding to support recruitment and support for current and new Central Oregon candidates. For more information about Central Oregon Grow Your Own/Teacher Pathways efforts, contact Kathy McCollum, director of alternative learning for HDESD: or (541) 840-9750.