Aspire to Teach 10-Year Anniversary and Education Justice and Democracy Panel

ASPIRE to Teach Faculty, Staff, Retirees and Alumni Celebrate 10th Anniversary

CU Denver’s ASPIRE to Teach program celebrated a landmark 10th year with a reflective evening reception honoring alumni, students, faculty and the administrative team on April 19 and an informative morning panel discussion on education justice and democracy on April 20. The trail-blazing program adds value to Colorado’s teacher education landscape by using an innovative program structure, technologies, vibrant one-on-one coaching, high quality curriculum, and paid experiences in classrooms to empower future teachers. Both events featured guest speaker David Stovall, PhD, Professor of Black Studies and Criminology, Law, and Justice, University of Illinois at Chicago. For nearly two decades, Dr. Stovall also served as a professor of Education Policy Studies.

From simple beginnings in the Spring of 2013, ASPIRE to Teach has grown into the largest alternative teaching program in Colorado. It currently serves 407 current students and has inspired and provided alternative teacher licensure to nearly 2500 alumni. Alumni have included: accomplished retirees who want to give back; individuals looking to change pace from a high-impact career; athletes —both Olympic and professional — who in their retirement wanted to work with children; paraprofessionals finally ready to pursue their own classroom; and parents who are now able to give to children other than their own.

Suzanne Arnold, PhD, executive director, has led the charge for the entirety of the program, supported by Director, Jennifer Fox, EdD, as well as the ASPIRE faculty and staff, SEHD’s Dean’s team, district partners, state legislators. It was clear at the event that Arnold is extremely proud of her high-performing team. “The ASPIRE group has mastered relationship-driven leadership, and there is no other team in the country like them,” said Arnold.

“I’ve never met a more profoundly visionary person in my entire life,” said Jennifer Fox, APSIRE to Teach director, describing Arnold. “Suzanne’s ability to innovate and see what is impossible is unmatched. She sees risks as opportunities and roadblocks as things to be shattered to allow more people to pass through. Her commitment to ensuring equity in teacher education is inspiring. Because of her, we now have equitable legislation in this state to support more diverse pathways to obtaining alternative licenses.”

Dean Marvin Lynn, PhD, commended everyone affiliated with ASPIRE to Teach. “The program is characterized by two core facets,” said Lynn. “That’s strong leadership and faculty excellence. And we are deeply grateful for the work you all do.”

Dr. Stovall, who has a gift for directly confronting serious educational topics in humorous and memorable ways, provided motivating words of wisdom and a call for community-engaged teaching during the keynote address. He stressed the importance of understanding unique contexts of teaching, constantly positioning oneself as a learner, being humble, checking in with students, and being an active facilitator in the classroom, navigating power in teaching, and community engagement. “When we talk about community engagement, the first thing you have to do is suspend this notion of you not only as all knowing. It instantly positions you as a learner. And, if I look at my community as a space of value, then the first thing I’m going to do is begin to ask questions of folks in that space. The second thing I do after those questions in our inquiry, I’m going to ask if I got it right,” said Stovall. “Any community-centered education is always asking the questions ‘Why and for what,’ ‘To what end,’ ‘for what purpose’ and ‘Why are we doing this’? I see myself all the time in solidarity with my students. So, when you are in classrooms and your students say, “why we got to do this”, it’s the perfect question. Don’t kill it.”


Education Justice and Democracy Panel Discussion

The panel discussion on April 20, moderated by Antwan Jefferson, PhD, Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in SEHD, focused on the theme of democratic responsibility of public education and dreaming about what is possible in the future.

Panelists included:

  • Robin Brandehoff, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor, SEHD
  • Cindy Gutierrez, PhD, Director, Office of Partnerships & Clinical Teacher Education, SEHD
  • Branta Lockett, Executive Director, 5280 Freedom School in Denver
  • Marvin Lynn, PhD, Dean, SEHD
  • Ryan Ross, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Equity & Inclusion, Colorado Community College System
  • David Stovall, PhD, Professor of Black Studies and Criminology, Law, and Justice, University of Illinois at Chicago

First, the panelists addressed the question of who the members of the public are in “public education.” Most defined “public” as a combination of students, families and communities and the unbelievable diversity and intersectionality that exists within these groups. The term public brings about questions relating to identity, history, culture, and ethnicity.

Many panelists expressed concerns about the voices of students and teachers being oppressed or depressed in education, especially in historically marginalized communities. “I continue on the path of making sure people are heard, that they’re visible, that they are valued, that they’re understood, and that the people who are making decisions are making decisions with the community and not for the community,” said Lockett, whose 5280 Freedom School recently received a charter from Denver Public Schools. “The reality is that public education has always been unequal and has always been contested,” said Lynn, “and there have always been differing views about what the focus of public education is. And so, I am glad to be in community with folks who I think share my values around the meaning of public education. And as we build toward this more equitable system of public education, we can do that together, I think in a way that’ll make a difference”

Public engagement practices can work to change conditions in education so that they are less prison-like and more freeing for all. When it comes to teacher education, rural spaces also benefit from public engagement strategies according to Gutierrez. “Everything’s local and practices have to be contextualized in each community,” she said. “It is the same thing that we tell all our new teachers to do. You look for and you really seek to formalize the relationships, understand the assets of your students and the people you are serving. We have to do the exact same thing wherever we go and to develop those partnerships. Because until you build enough trust and relationship in that space, you do not have an ability to start to help to change what needs to be changed.”

The panel discussion ended with keen advice for leaders in education. “Any forward-thinking education administrator sees themselves in community with folks prioritizing the expressed needs of the community, not something imposed,” said Stovall. This important ideal reflects both the vision and mission of the ASPIRE program in a profound way.