New PCC cohort aims to address underrepresentation in Oregon educational system
Photos and Story by Alfredo V. Moreno
According to the Oregon Department of Education, roughly 40% of Oregon public school students identify as people of color. However, only 11% of teachers in the state can say the same.
A new Portland Community College career pathway, the Critical Educators of Color Pathway (CECP), offers an alternative to the systems that have led to this dramatic underrepresentation while helping to develop new teachers of color in the state.
It features a cohort approach with students working together with pathway director and ethnic studies faculty Gabriel Higuera on their class and community projects throughout the academic year. The aim being to create an ecosystem of educators committed to social transformation.
“This program goes beyond uplifting marginalized populations,” Higuera said. “It dares to ask ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘What now?’”
A three-course-sequence (“Decolonizing Education,” “Applied Ethnic Studies I,” and “Applied Ethnic Studies II”) takes participants from theory, to community spaces, and, ultimately, into K-12 classrooms. Over the course of the year, students gain teaching experience and are introduced to a network of community leaders engaged in social justice work.
The first seven-student cohort participated remotely during the 2021-22 academic year and seven more were accepted into this year’s group, which meets weekly at PCC’s Hillsboro Center.
Tualatin High School graduate and now Pacific University education student Yessica Velazquez was part of the initial cohort last year. A self-described “DACAmented Latina,” Velazquez said the experience in the CECP left a profound impact on her.
“This pathway opens up opportunities that are life-changing,” she said. “We had a small class that got to know each other and our professor very well. We built friendships, stuck together and empowered each other through a difficult school year.”
With CECP support, Velazquez was able to find and apply for scholarships that will cover the entire cost of her bachelor’s degree in education coursework, which she is pursuing while working as an instructional assistant for the Canby School District.
“Yessica is the teacher I wish I had growing up,” Higuera said. “She has compassion, persistence, and a deep sense of joy in connecting with others, but also an advanced understanding of the U.S. educational system and the changes needed for all communities to thrive.”
Her path is one that Higuera said he hopes will eventually be the norm for how teachers and leaders of color are recruited and supported well into their professions.
“I would love to see CECP alumni leading equity efforts in the fields of education and beyond,” he said. “I hope that the persistence of advocates for equity, representation, and the integration of ethnic studies in Oregon schools will be reflected in greater diversity of educational leaders with the ability to teach complex truths and provide opportunities for others to be civically engaged.”
Velasquez said her experience in the pathway helped her embrace this opportunity to help transform the educational system.
“Even if you were not thinking of becoming a teacher, this program will make you want to be one and will empower you to be one,” she said. “Our future generations are counting on having more diversity in cultural and life experiences and more teachers who look like them in their classrooms. The CECP group is ready to break down the barriers for teachers of color.”