NEWS arrow

Grow Your Own program increases teacher diversity in schools

By Linda Wilson, member of the Peoria Federation of Teachers, IFT Local 780

As a lifelong resident of Peoria and a teacher in District 150 schools, I care deeply about our community and the 14,000 students we serve. About 55 percent of our students are African American, but less than 7 percent of our teachers are. The district also has a growing number of Latino students, yet Latino teachers are significantly underrepresented on staff, and male teachers are in short supply too. That’s why I’m committed to bringing the Grow Your Own Teacher program back to Peoria schools.

Grow Your Own Teachers (GYO) is an Illinois program designed to recruit and retain diverse candidates to become teachers in their own communities. Despite the increased awareness of the positive impact and need for more teachers of color, many school districts are like Peoria and suffer from a lack of teacher diversity.

For minority children and those with few resources, it is important for them to have role models they can relate to. And research suggests that white children benefit from having teachers of other races to dispel negatives stereotypes they may be exposed to.

I’m a black woman. I am educated. I have a career. I have a family. I am from this community. And as a proud graduate of the Grow Your Own program, I know how beneficial it is – for participants and their students.

For me the program was a godsend. I entered in 2008 when GYO was first launched in Peoria. I had been attending classes sporadically at Illinois Central College, and was working as a teacher’s aide at that time.

Before entering the program, I had no idea how I was going to complete my teaching degree. I was juggling school, family, work, and financial challenges. But the amazing support I received from peers and mentors in GYO helped to see me through and encouraged me to keep going to reach my goal.

There were so many helpful components to the program. I traveled to Chicago for the statewide networking meeting and heard Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond speak. I networked with other teachers across the state. I received training and leadership development. I received a stipend to help defray the costs of my education and, with forgivable loans, I was able to go full-time to Bradley University, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

I’m now entering my fifth year as a teacher at Trewyn K-8 School in Peoria. Many of our teachers live in surrounding communities. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, you do see things through a different lens when you live and work here. My school is three blocks away from my house. I see students and parents on my block and at the grocery store. I’m really invested in my community and my students. My students know I care about them, and I hope my success is inspirational to them. I want them to know they can overcome their challenges and go on to bright futures too.

I’m fortunate that my union, the Peoria Federation of Teachers, IFT Local 780, understands the importance of teacher diversity in our district and is supporting my efforts to bring GYO back to Peoria. I’ve been named the local’s Grow Your Own Teachers advocate, a role I take very seriously.

Our community wants great teachers, and we know that GYO produces high-quality educators. GYO graduates have high GPA’s, continue our education by pursuing masters’ degrees, and are invested in our communities. We aim to teach children that they can be successful, inside and outside the classroom.

Grow Your Own created new possibilities for me that would have never existing without the program. I know there are others who want to become teachers but who, just like me, need a few doors opened and some encouraging words. With the support of my union, I’m committed to helping them do that in my community and others.

Learn more about the Grow Your Own Teachers program at





    Copyright © 2019 Illinois Federation of Teachers