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Why Some of D.C.’s Leading Men of Color are Heading Back to Preschool

At Turner Elementary School in Southeast D.C., Torren Cooper is the only male of color who works directly in the classroom, even though the student body is 98 percent African American. Cooper is a literacy coach helping some of Turner’s youngest pupils with their reading and writing skills, including rhyming, alliteration, letter sounds and writing their names.

He is one of eight young men of color doing this work in D.C. Public Schools through a new program called the Leading Men Fellowship, which is wrapping up its first year.

The program trains recent D.C. public school graduates to be literacy coaches in some of the poorest schools in the city. DCPS partners with a local non-profit, The Literacy Lab, to develop the curriculum. The district provided training for the fellowships last summer and hosted weekly professional development sessions throughout the year. Nearly all the fellows graduated high school last year, but Cooper has his bachelor’s degree and is pursuing his master’s.

The Leading Men Fellowship program was created to address two different problems. First, it increases the number of males of color in early education, secondly — it helps reduce the gap in language development for preschoolers from disadvantaged backgrounds.