Hartford Public Schools welcomed 12 new teachers from Puerto Rico on Wednesday as part of the district’s effort to fill vacancies and enhance cultural enrichment.
A total of 16 bilingual educators from the island will join the school system’s ranks, teaching English as a second language, world language, math, science and special education at all grade levels through Hartford’s new Paso a Paso Puerto Rico Recruitment Program.
Paso a Paso, meaning step by step in English, is a metaphor that nods to the path the Puerto Rican teachers take to receive their Connecticut teaching certificate and to build a colleague network of support. The Hartford district launched the program in February to slowly eliminate staff vacancies.
For many of the teachers, who range from recent college graduates to educators with decades of experience, the move to Hartford was their first time leaving Puerto Rico. Now they are eager to make Connecticut their new permanent home.
“I made this move because I wanted to have experiences with other cultures and grow with the students,” Jarlene Marrero said.
Marrero will be teaching second-grade Spanish this year. She said that this opportunity, at times, makes her emotional.
“I’m very excited,” Marrero said. “I think I cry every day because I feel like I made this move to be a better professional, and I just wanted to have a change, and I know that here I can grow.”
Chief Academic Officer of Hartford Public Schools Madeline Negron said Paso a Paso will not only help educators, but also the students, more than 20% of whom are English learners.
“Fifty-six percent of our population is Latino or Hispanic. I believe that this will be an asset,” Negron said. “For the students who might feel a little more comfortable that they know they have somebody in front of them who understands their culture, understands their language, has similar experiences — I think it just immediately creates that connection between the teacher and a student.”
Raquel Carcorze, who will teach second-grade Spanish, said that she was inspired to pursue this opportunity to help students on the journey to becoming bilingual, a challenge that she can relate to.
“In my house, we didn’t talk English, but in school, I had to learn it and I struggled a lot. So I think it’s my time and my turn to help students living with similar situations,” Carcorze said.
Daniel Diaz has worked as a consultant recruiting teachers from Puerto Rico for 15 years and worked on Paso a Paso from the beginning advertisement stages. Diaz coached the applicants with their interviews and now is helping the newly hired teachers access housing and transportation in Hartford.
In a time of widespread burnout fueled by the pandemic, Diaz described the freshness and energy that the Paso a Paso educators are bringing into the coming school year.
“They have this excitement,” Diaz said. “Our students need enrichment. And a lot of that enrichment is brought from teachers from our area, but also those teachers who bring their cultural identity, they bring language, they bring history, they bring new ways of doing. There is an exchange of ideas, and I think that’s what’s really, really great.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hartford started to explore recruitment opportunities in Puerto Rico and ran a pilot program that brought three teachers to the district, all of whom are still working for Hartford schools.
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Adriana Beltrán Rodríguez, who will work as a lower-elementary Montessori teacher this fall, was one of those initial teachers. She said that she loves working in Hartford and is proud to see the program broaden its opportunities and support.
“When I came over, [Paso a Paso] wasn’t this developed, and it was definitely hard because there was only one other teacher that came from Puerto Rico, and I didn’t know her. So the fact that they’re really trying to connect them, it definitely will provide that sense of community that you feel like you lose when you leave home,” Beltrán Rodríguez said. “They still have their roots, and they have people that they can reach out to that are going through the same types of things.”
Additional support provided to Paso a Paso teachers includes a $5,000 signing bonus, $2,000 moving stipend and $2,000 for a housing security deposit.
Hartford Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said that Hartford is working with intention to diversify its staff with an emphasis on recruitment, retention and support.
Torres-Rodriguez said that the program, which started with a goal of hiring 10 Puerto Rican teachers, received more than 40 applications. The district plans to build off this success by expanding recruitment efforts beyond Puerto Rico, forming partnerships with educators from historically Black colleges and universities, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands, she said.
“We know that students benefit from diversity in their instructional staff. … We really are fortunate that we were able to bring such an experienced team,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “We’re learning a lot here and we’re hoping to expand.”
Alison Cross can be reached at email@example.com.