DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Educators at local universities are working to enhance diversity in the classroom statewide.
"About 50 percent of the students in North Carolina are minority students, and yet 80 percent of the teachers that are teaching them are white," said Dr. Gregory Downing, an assistant professor at NC Central's School of Education.
Prior to joining NCCU, Downing worked in Durham Public Schools.
"I saw students like me. I was able to look at them, reach out to them, try to become a mentor to them and try to get them on the right path," said Downing.
He explained the issue of representation is one he experienced from a student perspective.
"Probably from K-12, I maybe had two Black teachers and maybe two or three male (teachers). The problems that we are facing today have been problems we faced even in the '90s and 2000s when I was in school," said Downing.
According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2017-18 school year, just 11 percent of elementary school teachers were males. While the number jumped to 36 percent for secondary school teachers, both saw decreases since the beginning of the century (12 percent in 1999-2000 and 41 percent in 1999-2000, respectively).
On Thursday, NC Central announced their School of Education received $10,000 in funding from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to expand diversity in teacher development and to lead educational equity initiatives in North Carolina.
According to a press release, the university is partnering with the Leadership Internship for Future Teachers (LIFT) program at NC State's College of Education to "implement an educator e-mentoring initiative to support future teachers of color and bilingual teachers."
"We're saying 'yes' - bring those gifts to the classroom, where you can really make a difference," said Dr. Anona Smith Williams, the Executive Director of LIFT and the Associate Dean for Student Success and Strategic Community Engagement at NC State.
This summer, 29 rising seniors high-school seniors, most of whom were either students of color or bilingual, participated in a week-long program, aimed at students interested in pursuing a potential career in education.
"Once we get it and understand, look at it, assess it, we hope to replicate it around the state to other colleges also," said Williams.
By connecting at a younger age, educators hope they'll have a better chance to encourage students towards the teaching progression, as well as introducing them to valuable scholarship opportunities.
"Colleges are not cheap, so they need to be competitive for scholarships. So oftentimes, people who are from economically-distressed communities, rural communities, and communities heavily populated with people of color, they tend not to have the same opportunities and resources of other students. So how do we start to close that opportunity gap," said Williams, who added that some students who attended the virtual LIFT program had with bandwidth and internet connectivity issues.