AUSTIN, TX — For more than 100 years, teaching has run through Hillary-Rhys Richard’s family. Growing up in Katy, Texas, Rhys, as he’s known to his friends, listened to his mother, Astrya Richard, tell stories of her ancestors — four generations of educators who saw teaching as a calling, and learning as a tool for change.
By the end of high school, Rhys had never had a Black male teacher, and that absence, along with his family’s deep connection to education, helped steer him to follow in their footsteps.
This week, Rhys, 18, will complete his freshman year remotely as part of the inaugural class of the African American Male Teacher Initiative at Huston-Tillotson University. The first-of-its-kind program was created in partnership with Apple as part of the company’s ongoing and deep commitment to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Apple’s multiyear partnership with Huston-Tillotson complements other engagements the company has established through its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, working alongside the HBCU community to develop curricula and provide new learning and workforce opportunities.
At Huston-Tillotson, Apple is providing scholarships for the program’s students, called Pre-Ed Scholars, as well as hardware, software, and professional-development courses for students and faculty.
“Every student should have the chance to be taught by someone who represents them,” Rhys wrote in his application essay to Huston-Tillotson. “In order to build strong children, we need strong male teachers to forge a path through being the example for students. The baton has to be passed for us to continue pushing forward. I stand ready to run my leg of the race.
Currently, only 2 percent of all US teachers are Black men, something the program at Huston-Tillotson seeks to change. When Black students are taught by a Black teacher, they are significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college.
Huston-Tillotson President Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette has witnessed the power of that relationship firsthand. Her son had a Black male teacher in the fifth grade, and it transformed his education.
“It just really did something magical for him,” says Dr. Burnette. “So this is personal for me because of my own experience raising an African American male. It’s my mission to be able to get these young Black men in classrooms, so they can pour into other vessels like themselves because they have shared experiences. And there’s nothing like being taught by someone who has a shared experience.
”It’s the reason Dr. Burnette prioritized the creation of the African American Male Teacher Initiative, and sought out a partner in Apple.
I want to be the teacher I never had, the teacher every student deserves. And it all begins here.
Rhys Richard, student at Huston-Tillotson University
“There’s an African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,’” says Dr. Burnette. “So to have a partner like Apple that is best in class for innovation and its commitment to excellence — it’s a natural match. We’re investing in a mission with education as the great equalizer and giving people opportunities to be the best they can be.”
When Rhys graduates from the program, he’s going to teach music. He currently plays four instruments, including the tuba, which is his favorite. His freshman music classes are taught by Dr. Samuel Rowley, who is Rhys’s first Black male teacher. “He’s very positive,” says Rhys. “And he’s a perfectionist with his work, which is sort of like me. So I see myself in him.”
Dr. Rowley’s life was also changed by his first Black male teacher, his high school band director. “He left a tremendous impact,” says Dr. Rowley.
“We all wanted to be music teachers just like him.” Dr. Rowley uses Clips and Garage Band on iPad in his music classes, which are all taught remotely because of the pandemic.
“If it would not have been for Apple products, I would not have been able to connect with my students all around the country,” says Dr. Rowley, who is a recognized Apple Teacher after completing professional learning courses offered through the free online Apple Teacher Learning Center. He’s guiding Rhys and his fellow Pre-Ed Scholars through the courses as well, so they will also be recognized Apple Teachers when they graduate.
“I’m really excited about learning more about Apple technology with the Apple Teacher program,” says Rhys. “Especially now that I’ve been introduced to GarageBand, I want to learn more about how I can incorporate it into my classes when I’m a teacher.” That passion for sharing knowledge is something that Rhys’s mother has seen for many years.
“The way he loves music, it will make anyone love music,” says Astrya, an assistant principal who taught for many years. “And I just picture him having that type of impact on kids. I think he’s going to be an outstanding educator.” Rhys’s application essay to Huston-Tillotson closed with a commitment to the generations of students he will undoubtedly go on to inspire.“
I look forward to creating a place of open learning where ideas are exchanged and experiences are shared,” wrote Rhys. “I want to be the teacher I never had, the teacher every student deserves. And it all begins here.”
— Source and photos: Apple
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