Pre-K Literacy Program Receives $1,000,000 Grant to Hire Milwaukee Black Male Fellows

An Unexpected Calling for Teaching

Ahmad Shaffer didn’t plan to become a teacher, yet it’s something he loves. He currently serves as a teaching aid to preschoolers at Milwaukee’s Next Door. He helps students improve their reading skills, practices signing in their name and is an overall representation that students don’t often get to see.

According to Shaffer, some of his students want to become teachers because of him.

“We need more positive role models for our students, especially for our males of color,” said Shaffer.

Ahmad Shaffer has been working with Literacy Lab since 2019.
Ahmad Shaffer has been working with Literacy Lab since 2019. (Picture by Liyah Sumner/Carvd N Stone)

Shaffer has been teaching since 2019 through the Literacy Lab’s Leading Men Fellowship, which focuses on putting more males of color in the classroom.

The Literacy Lab recently received a $1,000,000 grant from Wisconsin’s Equitable Recovery Grant program. The Literacy Lab is a national nonprofit organization that will use the funds to expand the reach of the fellowship in Milwaukee by increasing the number of fellows recruited, trained, and placed in pre-K classrooms as well as the number of students served over a three-year period to meet critical needs in the wake of COVID-19.

“The Literacy Lab is putting males of colors in the classrooms to help the students…and the men have a better chance,” said Shaffer.

The fellowship addresses two things:

  • The immediate need for literacy development by placing fellows in pre-K classrooms for an entire school year to provide literacy support to students at under-resourced schools.
  • The long-term need for educator diversity and workforce development opportunities by hiring young men of color (ages 18-24) to serve as fellows

Utilizing the Grant

The fellowship hires 10 fellows per year which will increase to 15 thanks to the grant. Fellows are paid $15.20 an hour and work between 20-30 hours a week. Each fellow receives training from content experts plus professional and personal development training. A fellow also receives a monthly transportation stipend, a uniform, and a $2,500 higher education award.

Literacy Lab Program Director Bernard Rahming says it’s pivotal to focus on those early years to ensure a successful educational journey for each student.

According to a Milwaukee Public Schools report, only 41% of elementary students met grade-level reading standards in 2018 and only 12% of Black third-grade students met expectations in reading, compared to 48% of white students.

“It’s not on the kid to get out and seek resources,” said Rahming. “One of our biggest predictors in life is our support system…I hope the Literacy Lab can be one of those solutions.”

To further the organization’s ties with the community, The Literacy Lab has promoted Rahming from program manager to program director after being with the organization for two years.

Once he finished the program in his first year, Shaffer decided to come back because of his son. Shaffer wanted to spend more time with his son and he could do that with his fellowship. Plus, it’s good money, but most importantly, he loves his students.

“This is the first career I love what I’m doing,” said Shaffer.

To apply to be a fellow or to nominate a young man, click here.

Nyesha Stone founded Carvd N Stone in 2017 to cover positive news while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Stone has a B.A. in Journalism. She has raised over $30,000 to award grants and scholarships. She has also been featured in ESSENCE and worked with the American Black Film Festival.

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