By Keely Sexton
Mount Holyoke’s Master’s in Teaching program has teamed up with area independent schools to provide low- or no-cost tuition for students working toward their master’s degrees through the Independent Schools Fellowship. The opportunity is available to all, but Jemelleh Coes, director of teacher leadership for Mount Holyoke’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, said that Mount Holyoke specifically targets undergraduate institutions who serve predominantly Black, Hispanic and Native American students.
The program is the result of a partnership between Mount Holyoke and its partner independent schools, which are aligned with Mount Holyoke’s values of diversity, equity and access. Mount Holyoke offers discounted tuition to these students, and the schools subsidize the remainder at between 80% and 100%.
“We are inviting them to learn while they earn — so they would work at an independent school while they earn their degree at low or no cost at Mount Holyoke,” she said.
Many independent schools have done some difficult self-evaluation in recent years, said Coes, and realize that to honor their values of diversity and equity, they had to reassess their practices from the bottom up.
“The independent schools that we work with truly are willing to consistently interrogate their practices and culture and put equity and social justice at the forefront. They are looking at their resources and considering the best ways to achieve their goals related to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Coes.
The program’s explicit goal is to prepare students as fully as possible for teaching in independent schools, regardless of their background.
“We offer independent, school-specific courses as well as courses in providing student support outside the classroom, like with coaching and athletics,” Coes said. “We also give teachers who may not have had a background in education some support around being prepared to teach in the classroom.”
Because partner schools and Mount Holyoke’s teacher education programs share similar values and practices, the transition between teacher and student is as seamless as possible, said Coes.
“They are able to apply all of their learning directly to their teaching practice so it’s not disjointed — that is to say, what they are doing in their coursework is aligned to the needs of their school.”
For teachers who are making a transition from working at or being educated in public schools to working in an independent school environment, there can be even more of a jolt, which Mount Holyoke aims to address as well.
“It can potentially be an intense experience to be in an independent school, especially if you are from a public school background, but Mount Holyoke provides a community of support and care to help them navigate those challenges that they may face at their schools.”
The cohort model, wherein admitted students move together through a series of classes and graduate at the same time, also fosters a sense of community. MAT cohorts that have graduated from Mount Holyoke have developed their own social and online support communities that stay active well beyond graduation.
Because the program is the only one of its kind to offer a completely virtual model, it has attracted students from across the country.
Ultimately, said Coes, the independent schools fellowship program aims to increase justice and diversity among teachers and schools.
“My hope is to recruit as many Black and Brown educators to the program as possible because independent schools need them, but those educators are going to need a safe place to be able to be cultivated into their best selves,” said Coes. “That’s what Mount Holyoke provides.”