A new program aimed at bringing more bilingual and Hispanic teachers into Oklahoma City Public Schools has its first two graduates. The mother and daughter were the first beneficiaries of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools’ Bilingual Teacher Pipeline program.

The two women are now teaching in Oklahoma City Public Schools. The Foundation paid for them to get their teaching certificates. In exchange they are required to stay with the district for at least three years.

Linda Lopez has always loved education. For 7 years she was a paraprofessional.

“I always did dream of having my own classroom,” she said Tuesday. “Being able to guide them and teach them.”

But she was raising and supporting a family so going to school and getting her teaching certificate wasn't an option financially. Until the Oklahoma City Public Schools foundation offered to pay for her to become a full-time teacher. Her daughter Alexiss, also a para went through the program at the same time. The program was developed to deal with a disparity between Hispanic teachers and students within the district. 

“I do think it does make a difference because students do need someone they can relate to,” said Alexiss.

In Oklahoma City Public Schools 54% of students are Hispanic. But only 7.5% of teachers are. Research shows students do better in school when their teachers match their ethnicity.

“If I'm a student I want to see an adult in front of me that looks like me that understands my life firsthand,” explained Dr. Sean McDaniel, superintendent, OKCPS.

Alexiss and Linda both worked full time while getting their certificates. They are now full-time teachers.  At Ridgeview Elementary where Linda teaches, 15% of the students are bilingual. Linda is the only full-time teacher that is. In her class two of the students are bilingual and her principal said his observations already match the research.

“We had one student that it was a struggle getting him to come to school and it was like a light switch,” said Michael Lisenby, principal, Ridgeview Elementary School.  “The parents immediately wanted to know what was different.”

The Oklahoma City Public Schools foundation also has a Diversity Pipeline Program for people of color.  They currently have 69 people going through both programs. One new bilingual teacher is expected to graduate this spring.