Brooklyn Park teacher surprised with $50K to pay off his student loans

Box Tops for Education and Black Men Teach Twin Cities presented him with the check.
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A Brooklyn Park teacher was recently surprised with a $50,000 check to pay off his student loans. 

Black Men Teach Twin Cities and Box Tops for Education surprised Thetis White, who teaches fifth grade at Monroe Elementary School in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, with the check ahead of Teacher Appreciation Week. 

Here's the video of the emotional moment when he found out.

White's colleagues and his students complimented and praised his work as a teacher, bringing White to tears. And when White turned around, Black Men Teach and his students surprised him with a giant $50,000 check.

"This is awesome," White said in the video, noting it'll help him and his family, but also his students because it's "one less thing I don't have to worry about moving forward."

Before becoming a teacher White worked at UPS and coached football. He made the decision to go into teaching later in life to make an impact on kids' lives beyond the football field.

"When I chose to transition over to teaching it was mainly because I just saw a lot of my students not being very successful in the classroom," White said in the video. "They were always successful on the football field but it just wouldn't translate into the real world, the bigger picture. And that's something that I wanted to change."

White chose to be an elementary school teacher because he'd be able to impact his students' lives early enough so they stay engaged in learning.

Black Men Teach says when Black students have a Black teacher, they benefit tremendously. 

“Seeing someone who looks like you leading the classroom has a lot of psychological benefits,” Markus Flynn, executive director of Black Men Teach, said in a news release. “Representation is so important and powerful. Even for those who don’t identify as Black, seeing a Black man in that role helps undermine unconscious bias.”

Black Men Teach says Black boys who have a Black male teacher are 29% less likely to drop out of school years later. And if they're a low-income Black boy with a Black male teacher, they're 39% less likely to drop out.

But there are few teachers of color and even fewer Black male teachers in Minnesota, so many Black children go much of their school career without having a teacher who looks like them.

According to Black Men Teach, the Minneapolis and St Paul public school systems are made up of about 70% students of color, but the teacher corps is just 17% people of color.

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Of the roughly 64,000 teachers in the state, just 1.4% are Black, state data show. And the number of Black male teachers in the state is even lower — just 0.5% of all teachers in the state are Black men, Black Men Teach says. And fewer than 2% of teachers nationwide are Black men.

"My students don't have to use movies and TV shows for what a Black man is supposed to be. They have me right here, every day teaching them the ropes the right way," White said in the video.

In addition to providing White money to pay off his loans, Box Tops for Education will provide Black Men Teach Twin Cities with $500,000 over the next four years to fund scholarships, loan forgiveness and programming in support of Black Men Teach's mission to increase the number of Black male teachers in Twin Cities classrooms. 

“We know that inequities in education play a key role in the issue of systemic racism,” Lilly Moeding, brand experience manager, with Box Tops for Education/General Mills, said in the release. “That’s why we want to extend our efforts beyond funding to help increase teachers of color starting in our own backyard. That mission is only possible with partner organizations like Black Men Teach.”

In order to get more Black men in the classroom, Black Men Teach aims to make the profession more accessible to Black men by alleviating some of the financial burdens. 

Black Men Teach has a goal of having 20% of the teaching staff at its eight partner schools be Black men within six years, noting by that time the nonprofit will have built a pipeline that will provide 100 Black male teachers within 10 years.

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