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As states brace for the potential for starting the school year with thousands of unfilled teacher vacancies, several are easing certification requirements. But Arizona and Florida have gone one step further by lifting the requirement that teachers hold bachelor’s degrees in certain instances.
In Arizona, people can now start training to become a teacher without a bachelor’s degree, as long as they are enrolled in college and are supervised by a licensed teacher. However, if these candidates have an emergency teacher certificate—which is issued when a school can’t fill a vacancy otherwise—they can teach without supervision.
And in Florida, military veterans without a bachelor’s degree can now receive a five-year teaching certificate, as long as they have completed at least 60 college credits with a 2.5 grade point average and can pass a state exam to demonstrate mastery of subject-area knowledge. Both of these policies went into effect this summer.
Policymakers and some administrators contend these changes will make it easier to staff schools in times of shortages. Seventy-two percent of principals and district leaders said they don’t have enough applicants to fill the teaching positions they have open this fall, according to a new, nationally representative EdWeek Research Center survey.
But these decisions have also sparked outcry, with some teachers and union leaders warning that they devalue the profession. In an interview last month, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Arizona’s new law was “dangerous” and an example of “the disrespect for knowledge in this country.”
“They do not care about children’s knowledge if they are watering down credentialing so that you do not have people who know their content, know how to teach,” she said. “That has always been signified by a college diploma, and they would never do it in the professions or the occupations they thought were important. It shows you why they don’t think teaching is important.”
Even so, proponents of the Arizona policy change say that expanding access into the profession is a good thing.
Tonya Strozier, the principal of the Holladay Fine Arts Magnet Elementary School in Tucson, Ariz., said she thinks the policy change is an opportunity to diversify the teacher pipeline and better meet the needs of students of color.
While Strozier’s school is nearly fully staffed and won’t hire any teachers without a bachelor’s degree this fall, she said she would be open to hiring those candidates if needed. She’s confident that the training and support she provides to all new teachers would prepare them for the classroom.
“When I get a teacher, I generally make a significant investment in training them—they don’t come ready,” she said. “There’s always a significant gap between theory and practice.”
Strozier said she doesn’t think the state will be “inundated” with teachers who choose this pathway into the profession—"it’s an unnecessary fear,” she said. She also said that in her experience, teachers who are prepared outside of traditional programs are often “much more pliable” and are “open and willing” to trying new things to meet the needs of her school’s diverse student population.
“If we want something different, we’ve got to do something different,” Strozier said.
But Jacqueline Rodriguez, the vice president of research, policy, and advocacy at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, told K-12 Dive that she thought Arizona’s policy was degrading the profession.
“We have now allowed K-12 students to be placed in harm’s way with an unprepared person at the helm of the classroom by putting them in a position where they’re not only set up for failure, but it is very unlikely that they are retained in that same position, because they were not set up with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to be successful,” she said.
Rodriguez also told K-12 Dive that she worries other states will adopt similar rules. Already, policymakers across the country have relaxed their teacher-certification rules, such as expanding the qualifying score on state licensing tests or dropping licensure tests altogether.
Critics have warned that less-experienced teachers are more likely to end up in schools that serve more students of color and children from low-income families.
While other states offer financial incentives to military veterans to enter the classroom, Florida is the only state that has waived certification requirements for them, according to the Gainesville Sun.
“Florida is the most military friendly state in the nation,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis in a statement. “Providing military families with the resources they need to receive a high-quality education and find good jobs is the best way that we as a state can show our appreciation for the sacrifices that they make.”
Districts have long looked to veterans as strong candidates for a second career in the classroom, citing their leadership skills and adaptability.
Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association, said many veterans already become teachers through established routes into the classroom. But lowering the standard of entry for this group is not the answer to teacher shortages, he said.
“I think it’s very, very important that we maintain standards that ensure we have a well-trained, highly qualified teacher in every classroom,” he said, adding that teachers should have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and specialized training.
“There’s this mindset that if you were a student, that means you could be a teacher,” Spar continued. “There’s a lot more to being a teacher than being a student, or being a CEO, or being a former military personnel. You need to understand the concept and the pedagogy of teaching, and you need to be able to, in a really powerful way, build relationships with students.”
Florida is reporting more than 8,000 teacher vacancies for the coming school year, Spar said. To make a real difference filling them, state policymakers should raise teacher pay, look for ways to treat teachers as professionals, and stop the “vilification of teachers by the governor and other extremists,” he said.
As news of the policy change spread, some people mistakenly thought that military spouses could also start to teach without a bachelor’s degree—a misconception fueled by a viral social media post. The post discussed the wife of a veteran who was purportedly able to start teaching 3rd grade without any training and who didn’t know what phonetic spelling, reading fluency, and mathematical operations meant.
That account has been debunked. Military spouses can get their $75 certification application fee waived, but they still must meet all the usual requirements to becoming a teacher, including having a bachelor’s degree.
A week after North Carolina education officials touted the need for a dramatic change in teacher pay and licensure, the North Carolina Association of Educators held a news conference Tuesday to denounce their efforts.
NCAE Vice President Bryan Proffitt called for the state to revive strategies that he says worked well in the past, “while we reject these radical, deprofessionalizing, pie-in-the-sky schemes that we are being sold right now.”
A panel of educators appointed by the General Assembly has been working for months on a plan that would reshape pay and licensure for North Carolina teachers. A draft presented to the state Board of Education in April suggested a seven-tiered system that lets people enter as apprentices before they have a four-year degree. Fully licensed teachers could keep advancing based on performance and taking on extra duties, at a pay scale that would go well beyond the current one.
“Our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come.”
— Board of Education Chair Eric Davis
At last week’s state Board of Education meeting, board Chair Eric Davis and Superintendent Catherine Truitt spent about 30 minutes promoting the need for a new system. (Listen to their remarks here, starting about 3:20).
“Our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come,” Davis said.
Davis and Truitt said the current system makes it difficult for good teachers to enter the profession and fails to reward educators who make the most difference for students.
“It’s time to shed legacy thinking and move toward solutions that address the future, not the past,” Truitt said.
On Tuesday, NCAE members gathered outside the Department of Public Instruction headquarters to present a counterpoint. (Watch the news conference here.)
Proffitt said the system that existed in the early 2000s was good but has been dismantled and underfunded. He said the state should raise pay across the board, restore teacher assistant jobs that have been eliminated and ensure healthy annual raises based on experience and credentials.
“None of these solutions is radical or new or difficult to understand,” he said. “They’ve all worked right here.”
Kiana Espinoza, a middle school teacher from Wake County, said a pay scale that relies on test scores and student surveys could hurt teachers who work with English language learners, as she does. She too said the solution is simple.
“We just need a raise,” she said. “And not the less-than-inflation raise that has been suggested. We need a real raise. For everyone.”
The draft proposal included advanced licensing levels, open to teachers with high effectiveness ratings who agree to coach developing colleagues. At the highest level pay would start at $73,000 a year. The current pay scale tops out at just over $64,000 a year, for a teacher with a master’s degree and National Board Certification.
NCAE speakers questioned the basis for effectiveness ratings and the General Assembly’s willingness to pay for higher salaries. They also said there would be stretches with no annual raises.
“Experience-based pay keeps high-quality educators in schools,” Proffitt said. “Allow educators to sustain themselves on one job and they will stay in the profession that they love.”
Officials have emphasized that the licensure proposal is still in progress and will incorporate feedback from educators.
The panel working on the licensure and pay plan meets this week and is expected to report back to the state board this fall. Any changes would require approval from the Board of Education and the General Assembly.
July 8, 2022
KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University becomes the first university in Michigan to offer an 18-month expedited master’s program in special education resulting in an initial teacher certification with an endorsement in autism spectrum disorder, emotional impairments, or learning disabilities. The new program will allow qualified individuals with a bachelor’s degree in any area and experience working with children to prepare to become special education teachers. The Michigan Department of Education historically required individuals to have an elementary or secondary education certificate to earn a special education teaching credential, but this requirement has been waived to increase the number of qualified special education teachers. There is a dire and pressing need for such teachers. The U.S. Department of Education reports that 49 states have a shortage of special education teachers, including Michigan.
In accurate years, enrollment in initial endorsement programs has dropped in Michigan and, as noted, the state has experienced a serious shortage of special education teachers. Traditional programs require four or more years of study to earn special education certification, making it hard for many groups of potential teachers, including para-educators, substitute teachers, and career-changers, to earn a special education teaching license.
"The shortage of special education teachers continues to increase each year. This program will allow for a different path to becoming a special education teacher."
Dr. Kristal Ehrhardt, professor of special education and newly-appointed interim dean for the College of Education and Human Development
WMU's new program aims to address this shortage and to increase access for these students by providing a fast track towards initial teacher certification in special education for teachers of students with autism spectrum disorder, emotional impairment or learning disabilities. "The shortage of special education teachers continues to increase each year. This program will allow for a different path to becoming a special education teacher." said Dr. Kristal Ehrhardt, professor of special education and newly-appointed interim dean for the College of Education and Human Development. “Our special education faculty are working closely with local school personnel to design the format of this program with flexibility and accessibility in mind, in a way that supports working professionals and non-traditional students.”
Applications for the expedited program are now open with the first courses beginning fall 2022. The program is offered fully online, with synchronous and asynchronous courses and field placements in public schools. To meet the needs of working professionals and other non-traditional students, synchronous courses are offered in the evening or on weekends. The program is based on a cohort model, which has been shown to enhance student success. Candidates starting in fall 2022 will move through the 18-month program as a group, receiving consistent mentoring from WMU faculty and social support from classmates. Eligible students may receive funding, including $20,000-$26,000 stipends for those participating in the WMU Urban Teacher Residency Program, although funding is not assured. Diversity, equity and inclusion are cornerstones of the program, and the faculty are fully committed to recruiting, supporting and graduating a diverse group of students. The program is both intended and designed to increase the diversity of the teacher workforce in K-12 schools, as well as the overall availability of qualified teachers.
Interested prospective students are strongly encouraged to connect with special education faculty. Please contact program coordinator, Dr. Sarah Summy, with any questions about the new program. For general questions about CEHD programs, email email@example.com. The college also offers additional certificates and degrees in special education for teachers that already hold an initial teaching license and are interested in advancing their education.
A little more than a month before students were to return to Upper Darby High School, Dan McGarry wasn’t sure he’d have enough teachers.
Earlier in the summer, the Delaware County district had whittled the number of teaching vacancies at its 4,000-student high school from 10 down to one or two. But then more teachers resigned. At the end of July, vacancies had climbed back up to nine.
With 29 class sections requiring coverage, McGarry, the district’s superintendent, didn’t know whether he’d be able to fully staff planned courses, or whether the district would offer an unprecedented alternative: paying for some students to instead attend Delaware County Community College.
“The problem is, we can’t even put them in a study hall,” McGarry said in a accurate interview. “We won’t have a substitute teacher or staff” to run it.
He attributes Upper Darby’s staffing struggles primarily to a phenomenon that school leaders have been sounding alarms about: a dwindling pipeline of new teachers. Last month, Pennsylvania officials said the educator shortage had reached “crisis” levels — with 6,000 new teachers certified last year, down from about 20,000 a decade ago — and announced a plan to drive up the state’s numbers by 2025.
To McGarry, that isn’t soon enough. “It’s a month-to-month stress. It’s not a year-to-year stress,” he said, noting that midyear resignations further complicate the staffing picture. And while Upper Darby is paying teachers extra to handle additional classes, that presents its own problems: If too many staffers call out, the district is vulnerable, as substitute teachers have also been in short supply.
“Are we going to be able to open school on a Friday, or not?” said McGarry, whose district is also capping the number of classes incoming freshmen can take during high school — a shift that will limit student course loads in junior and senior years, or require early graduation — to ease its staffing burdens.
Calculating the extent of teacher shortages — and just how individual school districts are affected — is a challenge. While Pennsylvania tracks the supply of new teachers, it doesn’t collect data on the demand — such as vacancy rates in school districts and what subject areas are most needed.
Most other states don’t publish that information, either. “We know there have been acute shortages for some localities,” said Heather Peske, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research group based in Washington. But “we really need better data at the state and district level” to effectively address the problem — targeting incentives to where the greatest needs exist.
Part of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s plan for addressing teacher shortages will be working with school districts to gather data on unmet demand, said spokesperson Casey Smith.
“That doesn’t currently exist, and we know it’s a problem,” Smith said.
But state data do show that the rate of teachers who left public education jobs in Pennsylvania crept up last year, according to Ed Fuller, an associate professor in the education policy studies department at Pennsylvania State University.
Fuller, who analyzed state teacher staffing data, found that the attrition rate in 2021-22 was 6.2%, up from 5.4% the year prior. Although that’s lower than rates seen in 2015 and 2016 — which were above 7% — the uptick represents 1,057 additional teachers leaving Pennsylvania public schools compared to the year before, at a time when the supply of new teachers has continued to drop.
“The increase in attrition is just exacerbating existing shortages,” Fuller said. He noted that wealthier communities tend to retain teachers at higher rates than poorer ones — which “need a stable cadre of teachers the most.”
While the Philadelphia School District had filled approximately 97% of its 9,000 teacher positions by the end of July, according to a spokeswoman, it still has 270 vacancies for the 2022-23 school year.
After two months of advertising for a special education teacher at its high school, the Pottstown School District received zero applications. Other positions garnering low application numbers: an eighth-grade math teacher, drawing fewer than 10 applications, and another special education position that received six.
While superintendents say special education is a field that’s previously been tough to hire for — along with STEM positions, educators certified in teaching English learners and other specialized roles — the number of applications the district is receiving is “far lower” than in the past, said Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez.
And it’s not just applicant quantity, but quality: “The caliber of candidate has definitely gone down. We are offering jobs and contracts to kids with no experience,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve not had a couple of months in a classroom.” He added that some applicants are pitching themselves from out of state — as in, “‘I live in Ohio, but thanks to Zoom, I can still do this job effectively, and if given the job I’ll get the certification,’” Rodriguez said. “Well, that’s not how this works.”
Last year, Pottstown shut down a sixth-grade classroom after rotating through three teachers by November. On average, the district has lost about 10% of its teachers annually over the last three years, which Rodriguez attributes in part to its inability to match salaries offered by more affluent communities.
“Our system right now is a little upside down,” he said. “You get paid the most to work in the school districts that have the most money, the most resources in individual homes, and quite frankly, the easiest jobs.”
While that isn’t to say money is the driving factor, “without question, it makes it difficult to recruit,” Rodriguez said, noting that one day last month, he lost two teachers to better-paying Montgomery County districts.
In Bucks County, Dana Bedden has been doing some of that hiring. “We’re literally robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Bedden, the superintendent of the Centennial School District, which has been able to manage a accurate increase in teacher turnover by hiring educators from other communities.
But that isn’t solving the problem, said Bedden, who, like a number of superintendents, voiced concern about the demands placed on teachers during the pandemic and the “increased politicization” of public education. “It’s not like there are more people coming in. We’re just taking people from other districts,” he said.
In Upper Darby, where on average 11% of teachers have been leaving the district each of the last three years, officials say turnover isn’t a new issue. But in the past, “you had hundreds of people” applying to fill the spots, said McGarry, the superintendent. “Now, there aren’t people coming out qualified to do these jobs. I can’t impress this on people enough.”
He and other district leaders faced upset parents during a May school board meeting that focused on the district’s plan to potentially steer students to community college for classes it couldn’t offer at the high school and its capping of high school course loads. Some questioned whether it was appropriate to put high school students in a college setting, and how “rushing” children out of school might affect their social development. Others thinking about losing opportunities that had made the high school attractive.
“We’re here having a conversation again tonight about the attack on public education,” McGarry said, citing a “lack of respect for public educators” and inadequate funding.
On July 28, the district informed parents that high school staff would work with families “to adjust schedules and plan for enrollment in Delaware County Community College.”
The money to pay for the courses would come from what the district would have spent on teacher salaries: Hiring 10 teachers could cost about $700,000, McGarry said, while dual enrollment for 300 students — the number who expressed interest last year and qualified based on assessments — would cost $277,000. The district would also pay for transportation and materials.
“We are always going to try to hire a full-time teacher. We are not giving up on that goal,” McGarry said in an interview. But he said he doesn’t want to promise families something he can’t deliver.
To that end, Upper Darby is scaling back the number of courses students can take during their four years at the high school, from 32 to 28. With limited staff, McGarry said, the district has to ensure it can deliver the courses students need to graduate; the district previously reduced that requirement to 21.
As he faced parents in May, McGarry told them that “no one wants to be in the situation we’re in in Upper Darby.”
But, he later said, “What do we do when no one wants to go into the profession?”
Update: This story has been corrected to clarify that the attrition rate of 6.2% in 2021-22 represents 1,057 additional teachers leaving Pennsylvania public schools compared to the year before.
The MarketWatch News Department was not involved in the creation of this content.
Evolution Academy Charter School Expands Community Healthcare Worker Certification
Aug 03, 2022 (PRNewswire via COMTEX) -- PR Newswire
DALLAS, Aug. 3, 2022
Open enrollment for the program available for Dallas, Houston and Beaumont campuses
DALLAS, Aug. 3, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Evolution Academy Charter School, along with Texas Education Agency and Region 10 Education Service Center, now offers a Community Health Worker (CHW) Certification as an option to help students prepare for the workforce as part of its College and Career Readiness requirements.
Community Health Workers (CHWs) are non-medical public health workers who connect communities to health care and social service providers. CHWs have been identified by many titles, such as Community Health Advisors, lay health advocates, promotoras, outreach educators or community health representatives. Community Health Workers are a necessary link for hospitals, churches, insurance companies and nonprofits to connect with diverse populations and promote healthy behaviors.
This is the first year this program was offered to high school students and Evolution Academy Charter School Richardson took advantage of the opportunity by enrolling fourteen students to participate in the pilot program in partnership with Region 10. These students were required to meet 120 hours of core competency in eight areas: communication, interpersonal skills, service coordination, capacity building skills, advocacy skills, teaching skills, organization and knowledge base.
"Our students completed individual and group projects. They also gained hands-on experience by hosting a Health & Wellness Fair as well as a blood drive earlier this spring," said Cynthia Trigg, superintendent and founder, Evolution Academy Charter School. "We are so proud of all the work they have accomplished and for the jumpstart this certification will give them in their careers."
Seven students have completed the program thus far. These students will receive their Community Health Worker Certification from the Texas Department of State Health Services and Region 10 Education Service Center, which will allow them to have an advantage at landing a job in the healthcare Industry.
Following the success at the Richardson campus, Evolution Academy is now launching the Community Health Worker Certification program on all three of its campuses, located in the Dallas, Houston, and Beaumont, Texas. Programs like this support Evolution Academy's ability to provide students with access to college, career and military readiness skills while they earn a high school diploma, ultimately providing students with increased opportunities post-graduation.
In addition to the Community Health Worker Certification program, Evolution Academy Charter Schools also offers additional professional certification options including Microsoft Office Specialist, OSHA 30-Hour Construction, Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Educational Aide I, and ServSafe Manager certifications.
As Evolution Academy celebrates its 20th school year, it is revitalized in its mission to help students achieve academic, social and career success. This is accomplished by providing a comprehensive, integrated instructional program, demonstrated through a variety of innovative programs such as a 4-hour school day, online learning programs which predate the COVID-19 pandemic, and more. Evolution Academy is currently enrolling for the upcoming school year on all three of its campuses. To enroll, visit any location in person or visit www.evolutionacademy.org.About Evolution Academy
Founded in 2002, Evolution Academy offers one-on-one attention with a mix of traditional and computer-based instruction, enabling students to earn two or more credit hours every nine weeks, allowing them to catch up or graduate early. The school also offers multiple career and technical education courses that prepare students for certificates in professional fields. Evolution Academy has graduated more than 3000 students, many of whom were unsuccessful in traditional school settings. Evolution Academy has campuses in Richardson, Beaumont, and Houston, Texas, and has open enrollment year-round for all three campuses.
Kayla Tucker Adams; KTA Media Group, firstname.lastname@example.org; 214-403-9852 cell
SOURCE Evolution Academy Charter School
Copyright (C) 2022 PR Newswire. All rights reserved
The MarketWatch News Department was not involved in the creation of this content.
A nighttime stroll through downtown Stephenville evokes a certain small-town Texas vibe. All around the square, string lights illuminate weathered brick storefronts. The Erath County courthouse, with its thick limestone walls and Romanesque arched windows, was completed in 1892. Its pointed clock tower remains one of the tallest structures around. On the courthouse lawn is a Confederate memorial, dedicated in 2001, that pays tribute to the more than six hundred soldiers who now “rest beneath the rich soil of Erath County.” Nearby, on a corner of the square, stands a life-size statue of a dairy cow. The black-and-white Holstein, erected in 1972 and known locally as Moo-La, is a nod to the county’s state-leading dairy industry. The fire department has been known to hose her down, and she’s sometimes costumed in relevant attire: a flower necklace for the annual Moo-La Fest, a cloth mask at the height of the pandemic.
The town lies seventy miles southwest of Fort Worth and is home to Tarleton State University. The school, which has 14,000 students, has claimed 37 championships at the College National Finals Rodeo. The best ropers and riders often stick around after graduation. More pro rodeo cowgirls and cowboys reside in Stephenville, population 20,897, than anywhere else, giving the town a solid claim to the title Cowboy Capital of the World.
Across the street from the courthouse, a bright orange awning draws attention to a vintage Rexall Drugs sign. The long-gone pharmacy once sold various feel-good remedies, including a tonic containing alcohol and cod-liver oil. Today the space is occupied by an outdoors store called Slim Pickins Outfitters. The owner, Jahmicah Dawes, is the son of a Jamaican immigrant father and a Miami-raised mother. He’s a big guy, six foot one, with an easy smile and a contagious laugh.
One accurate evening, Dawes, wearing a Slim Pickins–branded beanie over his short dreadlocks and gray wool socks beneath his mustard-yellow sandals, gave me a tour of his shop. A record player spun an album by country singer Charley Crockett, who crooned about hard times. Slim Pickins caters primarily to adventurous types, such as hikers and climbers, but it’s far from a standard camping store. Dawes’s personal touches are evident everywhere: Patagonia T-shirts and jackets hang from walls lined with reclaimed wood and corrugated steel. Cast-iron pipes support shelves displaying high-end Osprey packs. A repurposed 1950s refrigerator, its door ajar, showcases running shoes made by the Swiss brand On. Hats and mugs feature the silhouette of Bill Murray—not the actor but the Dawes family’s floppy-eared basset hound, who is also the shop’s mascot. His image, Dawes said, “outsells the Patagonia stuff.”
Dawes started the shop in 2017 with his wife, Heather, in hopes of building a community of like-minded enthusiasts of natural spaces, what he would come to call the “Slim Pickins tribe.” At the back of the shop, the couple created a studio for various classes: all-abilities yoga and hunting-certification courses were among the offerings. A weekly bike ride began at the shop and rolled along Stephenville’s Bosque River Trail before finishing at the farmers’ market on the square. Heather’s dad, a Baptist preacher, sometimes joined. It wasn’t unusual for Dawes to spend hours listening to the life story of a drop-in customer.
For the first few years, Slim Pickins grew modestly. But like thousands of other small businesses, it struggled to stay afloat during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then everything changed in February 2021, when the Outbound Collective, an online hub for outdoorsy types, released a short film touting Dawes as the only Black owner of an outdoors retailer in the country. The video made Dawes something of a celebrity in the outdoors world. Slim Pickins–branded clothing gained a certain cachet, and this February, the outdoor-gear chain Public Lands, which is owned by Dick’s Sporting Goods, began carrying a line of Slim Pickins merch.
All of this led to one significant measure of success. “Our doors are still open,” Dawes said. But the boom in sales also rang a little hollow. He and Heather began to reconsider what real success might look like. They decided to use their newfound fame to help diversify participation in the outdoors and within the outdoors industry.
According to a 2018 study published by the conservation organization George Wright Society, a mere 2 percent of visitors to national parks are African American. By comparison, African Americans made up about 13 percent of the U.S. population that year. In Texas, data remains limited, but a 2009 study from Sam Houston State University and the Parks and Wildlife Department found that 1 percent of state park visitors identified as Black. Minority groups as a whole accounted for 15 percent of state park visitors, versus 46 percent of the state’s total population. More recently, a 2016 study of Cedar Hill State Park, a popular escape southwest of Dallas, showed that while roughly half the surrounding community was African American, only 11 percent of the park’s visitors identified as such.
Growing up in Wylie, near Dallas, Dawes wasn’t active in many traditional outdoor activities. It wasn’t until later, while in college at Tarleton, that he took a transformative road trip across the Southwest. One day, he went hiking at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, looked out across the vast Arizona desert, and was hooked.
Part of Dawes’s charm comes from his earnest excitement for learning more about the outdoors, something I would experience firsthand the day after visiting his shop. He took me camping near his home, and in a meadow made ocher by the morning light, we discovered how not to boil water in the wild.
Dawes and I, along with his older brother, Jahdai, and his close friend Ben Tabor, were in the Palo Pinto Mountains, the rugged hills that rise alongside State Highway 16 about fifty miles northwest of Stephenville. Dawes had hauled boxes of new gear to the campsite for us to test, and most of the products—including solar-battery-powered lights and campfire cooking utensils—had worked as advertised the previous evening as we sat round a roaring fire, swapping stories.
But this morning, with the fire kicked back to life, we were craving coffee and carbs. Dawes looked up from an instruction manual and assured us the device he was fiddling with, from a not-to-be-named manufacturer, could boil water using just grass and twigs as fuel. An hour passed. We watched an instructional YouTube video. No luck.
Tabor, a fly-fishing guide who leads week-long floats on rivers all across the state, stood up and set his cast-iron kettle right down in the campfire’s licking flames. A few minutes later, he poured us steaming cowboy coffee—the grounds thrown right into the kettle, a splash of cold water added at the end to make them settle. He gave us a look, like, Cute toy, boys.
While we sipped coffee, Dawes ruminated on books that have inspired him, such as The Adventure Gap and Black Faces, White Spaces, which chronicle the history and causes of segregation in the outdoors. “For the longest time, people of color, we were on this land first, or we were brought here to cultivate the land, and there was always this connection. We were just never given ownership. And if we were, we were constantly reminded that it could be taken away like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “You’re warned by your great-aunts, your grandparents, ‘Don’t go in the woods—bad things happen in the woods. Don’t go over there where those white people are enjoying themselves.’ ”
Then the civil rights era arrived, and, Dawes said, “there is better
opportunity—not equal, better—and you can start working in the city, in offices. And it’s like, my family suffered too long, too hard, for me to go out and frolic in the woods.” Along the way, he said, the history of many influential figures, such as the Buffalo Soldiers, who served as the first national park rangers, was lost. “Then, those same people, and descendants of those people, weren’t even allowed in national parks anymore. Now, when I think ‘leisure,’ when I think ‘activity,’ when I think ‘relaxation,’ I’m going to go think of a million other things to do before I go hiking, before I go fly-fishing.”
As a kid, Dawes was on a basketball team and played the cymbals in his high school marching band. He also loved working with animals. He raised hogs and judged horses through his school’s Future Farmers of America program. Every year his dad, Locksley Dawes, would take him to the stock show in Wylie and buy him a book. Invariably, he would get one on horses, dreaming of someday becoming a horse trainer.
Locksley was a high school teacher who worked as a massage therapist on the side. He once took Dawes to an expo in Dallas focused on Black entrepreneurs. There, Dawes met athletes and performers who were also business owners, including Dallas Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders.
When it came time to go to college, Dawes settled on Tarleton State because of the school’s well-regarded equine science program. While there, he worked at Upward Bound, a college-readiness program for disadvantaged kids, and helped lead a campus ministry, where he met Heather. She’d grown up in tiny Strawn, in the Palo Pinto Mountains, and graduated at the top of her twelve-student high school class.
Dawes ended up studying at Tarleton for eight years, which he attributes to his wide-ranging curiosity and, more frankly, a lack of focus. “I never really followed a prescribed course of study,” he explained. He’d be registering for his animal-science classes when Introduction to Theater would catch his eye. “Well, if I don’t take it now,” he figured, “when am I going to do it?”
One day, an equine science professor named Don Henneke—“an old cowboy,” Dawes said—sat him down and told him, “You’re book smart, but there’s a problem. You’ve never owned a horse.” Dawes considered what else he might study, and he thought about his grandmother, who’d been a seamstress and home economics teacher. As a kid, he’d promised her he would learn to sew. He signed up for an introductory sewing class, which kicked off a fascination with textiles.
He began scouring thrift shops and ran a clothing retailer out of his dorm room, selling his finds: retro collegiate jackets, quirky caps, faded Levi’s. He called his pop-up Slim Pickins Vintage, an homage to his grandpa Curly, who was known as a sharp dresser, despite what some family members called the “slim pickings available for big guys like us.”
After graduating in 2012, Dawes worked a series of jobs, including at a sneaker shop and a national clothing chain, where he considered going into corporate management. After getting married, in 2014, he and Heather planned to move to a bigger city—somewhere with more opportunity and greater diversity (a place where, for example, people might not assume Dawes was a college athlete). But other dreams took hold instead.
The evolution of his business aspirations, from running a clothing company to owning an outdoors outfitter, started on a whim. Dawes and some buddies were headed to Fort Worth to stock up on gear for upcoming mission trips to places as far-flung as the rain forests of Venezuela. They started kicking around an idea: “If someone opened a gear shop in Stephenville, they’d kill.”
One day after that, driving with Heather, Dawes brought up the concept in earnest. “Okay,” Heather told him, “but when this fails, it’s time for us to get out of Stephenville.”
He attended an industry show in Austin and met Koby Crooks, a local rep for several major outdoors brands, including Osprey. “Every few years, a young person approaches me about opening up a store in a college town with a redeveloping downtown,” Crooks told me. “And generally they do pretty well.”
Dawes presented a business plan to local investors and started scouring garage and estate sales for design inspiration. He once came home with a set of lacquered wooden paddles. Heather looked askance at him and asked, “Why’d you buy those?”
“For my shop,” he told her.
“But you don’t own a shop,” she reminded him.
Heather helped him turn Slim Pickins into a reality. The couple built the business on their hands and knees, alongside friends and family, scraping and peeling back decades of grime from the pharmacy’s old floor. Dawes remembers the tattered prescriptions they found, “lots for opium.” They stuck them in a frame alongside the store’s business license.
The shop attracted Tarleton students as well as locals seeking to explore the nearby Brazos River and Palo Pinto Mountains. In 2017 the couple had the first of their two boys. October 2019 brought more good news: Slim Pickins was named one of fifteen “cool shops” in the U.S. by the Outside Business Journal.
Around this time, Dawes and Heather decided to promote Slim Pickins as the first Black-owned gear shop in the U.S. Dawes admits he wasn’t certain the claim was true. “Oh, I was prepared to publicly apologize,” he said. “I had the whole thing scripted in my head.” But no one stepped forward.
When the pandemic started, Slim Pickins was forced to close temporarily. Even after the store reopened, things were slow. Tarleton had shifted to remote learning, so there were few college kids around, a blow to local businesses. And though the outdoors industry in general boomed during the pandemic, small shops like Slim Pickins often couldn’t stock popular items because of supply-chain issues.
Then came the murder of George Floyd. The couple discussed how they and their business could support the racial justice movement that followed. They knew how explosive racial tensions in their community could become. While Dawes was at Tarleton, a group of mostly white students had thrown a Martin Luther King Jr. Day party and worn outfits that propagated racist tropes. One dressed as Aunt Jemima; another donned a T-shirt that read “I Love Chicken.” Facebook images of the event made national news, and the school opened an investigation. “We have to determine, is this a violation of university rules or is it free speech?” Wanda Mercer, then the vice president of student life, told the press. In response, Klan members congregated downtown, calling Tarleton’s administrators “spineless.”
More than a decade had passed, but the incident still felt fresh in Dawes’s memory during the summer of 2020. Slim Pickins was already struggling. Would speaking out now cost the Daweses their livelihood? “We had tense conversations,” Heather said.
They decided it was worth the risk. Dawes helped organize a protest, and a thousand participants streamed through Stephenville in the summer heat, holding signs aloft. “It was crazy surprising,” he said. “Some of that support came from outside Stephenville, people in Dallas and Fort Worth and Arlington. But there were also a lot of local young people—kids in junior high, high school, and college—whose parents and grandparents came out and walked with them.”
Ahead of the protest, Dawes, along with other local Black leaders, convened with police to discuss race and law enforcement in Stephenville and address concerns by some in the community that the protests would devolve into riots. Following those conversations, many local officers decided to march alongside the protesters. His discussions with cops were “transformative conversations I never thought I’d be able to have,” he said. “That meant a lot to me—and also was difficult to reconcile in my mind.”
Dawes’s distrust of the criminal justice system runs deep. His brother Jahdai had been arrested during his senior year at Howard University because he “fit the description” of a suspected burglar. The charges were later dropped.
When Dawes was in high school, a white woman, a massage client of his father’s, accused Locksley of sexual assault. Locksley was arrested and charged with one count of sexual assault, as well as three counts of attempted sexual assault, a lesser charge. He and his family have always maintained his innocence, and he fought the charges for three years. One charge of attempted sexual assault was ultimately dropped; the other three were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. He was required to pay a small fine.
But Locksley was punished in other ways. The State Board for Educator Certification revoked his teaching license not long after the trial. Dawes said the jobs his dad got were different after that. Dawes helped him deliver newspapers and clean up HUD homes where residents were living in poverty. “No work is beneath you,” Locksley would tell him. The teenage Dawes wondered why his dad didn’t just give up and move away, start fresh elsewhere. “But that’s not my dad,” Dawes said. “And I’m grateful for it.”
In hindsight, he said, that experience was the most formative of his youth, and his dad’s resolve informed his decision to stay in Stephenville when things got tough, and to focus Slim Pickins’ mission around race in an area “where racism is blatant and out in the open,” he told me. “That’s why we’re here.” But his family’s trauma also haunted him. He felt vulnerable even when his business was doing well. “I’m terrified,” he said, “because it could be taken away.”
Throughout the summer of 2020, Dawes would look at his young sons and wonder, How am I going to keep them safe? Stress mounted. The shop continued to struggle. To make payroll, Dawes took night shifts at Home Depot and H-E-B, stocking shelves. Heather, who at the time ran a nonprofit pregnancy support clinic, found herself looking around their home, thinking, Okay, what can we sell? When Dawes fell asleep driving home from an evening shift, Heather knew he needed help. At a mental health check, Dawes was diagnosed with depression.
The couple reached out to Crooks about selling their business, but he asked them to hold on a little longer. He connected them with a PR firm, which called up the Outbound Collective. That group often produces films highlighting diversity in the outdoors. A few months later, a video production crew arrived in Stephenville.
The fifteen-minute film, titled simply “Slim Pickins,” premiered on YouTube in February 2021 and quickly racked up 20,000 views. The Outbound Collective encouraged Dawes and Heather to set up a GoFundMe page, which received more than four thousand donations from as far away as New Zealand. The donations might’ve kept coming, but after hitting their goal of $172,000, they turned off the fundraiser. They used the money to buy out their investors so they could become sole owners of the shop.
Slim Pickins’ online following increased exponentially after the film. A photo of the Dawes family, on their front porch with Bill Murray, was posted to Instagram’s official account. It got nearly half a million likes. And at the 2021 national Outdoor Retailer conference in Denver, Slim Pickins was named Retailer of the Year.
Big-name brands came calling. Did the shop need an overland camping trailer? Would Slim Pickins like to sell the world’s best bikes? How about a partnership with Union LA for the release of the Air Jordan 4 Tent and Trail line of athletic shoes?
Business was, for the time being, steady again.
The couple also looked for ways to directly advance Slim Pickins’ diversity mission. Dawes moderated a panel at a summit organized by the nonprofit Outdoors for All. He was also invited to serve on a diversity advisory group called Together Outdoors, for which he helped develop educational materials on a range of topics, including how to recruit, hire, and support employees from different backgrounds.
The results of these efforts have been mixed, he told me. While many brands and organizations remain committed to “doing the work”—investing time and resources to make meaningful change, even if it initially hurts the bottom line—he felt others were engaged in a more performative show of support. “We’ve had discussions on the committee about what real change looks like, how quickly we should expect it, and if change doesn’t occur, what’s the recourse?” Dawes said. “I’m like, when brands and organizations are posting online about their support of diversifying the outdoors but not committing genuine resources to the effort, calling them out is not shaming. It’s providing accountability.”
Today Slim Pickins sells gear supporting organizations such as Black Outside Inc., a San Antonio nonprofit that connects Black youth with culturally relevant outdoor experiences. (Meaning you don’t need to wear performance gear or participate in rock climbing or hiking to enjoy the outdoors. Grilling out in a park, or however you best connect with nature, counts too.) Dawes is also proud that there are now two other Black-owned outdoors gear shops in the U.S.: Wheelzup Adventures, in Cumberland, Maryland, and Intrinsic Provisions, in Hingham, Massachusetts. Dawes and Heather often connect with both shops’ owners to share stories of successes and failures.
These days, people travel from across the state, even across the country, to meet the Daweses and their staff. One such person was Caziah Franklin, a 21-year-old college student and the son of Kirk Franklin, the Dallas-based Grammy-winning gospel musician. Caziah, an avid climber and cyclist, began researching Black history following the murder of Floyd, learning why so few people of color participate in outdoor sports. He then started looking around Texas for those pioneering change. He found Slim Pickins, sent the shop an Instagram message, and headed to Stephenville. When he pulled up to the store, he spotted Dawes wearing Topo Designs clothing with “the dopest sneakers I’ve ever seen. It was so cool to see this Black guy inhabit both cultures and not be afraid to clash. Like, ‘No, I can be Black and granola at the same time.’ ” For the better part of the day, they sat at the back of the shop and talked. They’ve since become close friends.
Of course, Dawes still has the genuine business to worry about, and success isn’t guaranteed, despite Slim Pickins’ fame. “We’re not where we need to be,” he told me.
But he’s hoping he’ll get some help from the verdant hills, limestone bluffs, and sandstone-lined creeks where we’d gone camping together. They’re all part of Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, the first new state park in decades, tentatively scheduled to open to the public late next year. For the millions of Texans living in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, the five-thousand-acre park is no more than a couple of hours away. Parks and Wildlife anticipates 75,000 annual visitors. Heather and Dawes live just a few miles from the park entrance, in Heather’s hometown of Strawn, and are weighing how their business might best serve those explorers.
One day, Dawes and I rumbled down a dirt road that leads to a boat ramp at Tucker Lake, the jewel of the park. We boarded a small flat-bottomed craft and began motoring up a narrowing creek, looking for carp. The water was murky from accurate rains, and the only fish we saw burst from a shallow rapid and disappeared before we could cast. The cedar forest closed in on both sides. The sky was gray, the wind calm. Dawes looked off toward the cascading green ridges surrounding us, which he said reminded him of the Rockies in places like Gunnison, Colorado—revered spaces where Texans passionate about hiking or mountain biking or fly-fishing often escape to. “Why leave Texas,” he asked, “to live an outdoor lifestyle?”
Ian Dille is a writer and producer based in Austin.
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Slim Pickins: An Underdog Saga.” Subscribe today.
New webinar series aims to enhance education and training opportunities for financial advisors and will qualify for CE Credits
Washington, D.C., Aug. 10, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to pro bono financial planning for people in crisis or need, is partnering with the Financial Behavior Keynote Group to launch a free webinar series focused on soft skills building for advisors, specially targeting those working with pro bono clients. Starting in September, the four-webinar series will cover:
Diversity & Inclusion: Empathy or Sympathy?*
Tapping Clients' Strengths to Create Behavior Change*
The Psychology of Money: Understanding a Client’s Financial Decisions**
Featuring Dr. Mary Bell Carlson, CFP®, AFC® on January 18, 2023 at 1 p.m. ET
Helping Clients Overcome Money Anxiety**
Featuring Ryan Law, CFP®, AFC® on March 15, 2023 at 1 p.m. ET
Dr. Mary Bell Carlson, CFP®, AFC®, President of the Financial Behavior Keynote Group, says: “Influencing client behavior is a critical part of any financial advisor’s role and can be especially important in the pro bono context. A pro bono volunteer advisor can be more effective if she understands the emotional and psychological factors that connect to money behaviors, especially when dealing with clients who are struggling financially and may have never engaged with a trusted financial services professional.”
While the webinars are aimed at advisors doing pro bono work, the sessions are open to all financial advisors who want to elevate their emotional intelligence. The series is part of FFP’s education and training offerings, helping financial planners develop skills and techniques to address the needs of all clients, regardless of income level. The series of four webinars is sponsored by BlackRock.
Dr. Thomas’ and Dr. Archuleta’s upcoming presentations have been approved for CFP® CE credit, with the two 2023 presentations currently pending approval. In addition to educational webinars, FFP offers various resources to help volunteers address the needs of underserved populations, including a Pro Bono Financial Planning Volunteer Training, toolkits, worksheets, and more.
Jon Dauphiné, Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation for Financial Planning, adds: "We are thrilled to have the Financial Behavior Keynote Group experts collaborate with FFP to make this webinar series possible. This fantastic offering will enrich FFP’s ongoing efforts to bring free training and skills development to pro bono volunteers.”
Advisors can learn more and register for individual webinars by visiting FFPprobono.org/webinars.
*Qualifies for CE Credits
**Pending approval for CE Credits
More About the Webinars
September 7, 2022
Dr. Michael G. Thomas Jr. is an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) and a lecturer at the University of Georgia. His research focuses on financial empathy, data visualization’s effects on financial behavior, and the connection between brain function and money. Dr. Thomas’ life-long goal is to help underserved communities establish, grow, and sustain their wealth by utilizing an intra and inter-family wealth creation process.
Dr. Thomas uses the platform of empathy and compassion to illustrate how diversity and inclusion efforts are most effective from a place of empathy – not sympathy. During this talk, he unpacks the differences between empathy and sympathy, the effects on diversity and inclusion based on these lenses, and how to effectively utilize empathy in your diversity and inclusion efforts.
November 3, 2022
Dr. Kristy Archuleta is an internationally recognized and award-winning Professor in Financial Planning at the University of Georgia, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Certified Financial Therapist-I™. Known for her contributions to the development of financial therapy, she is a co-founder of the Financial Therapy Association, the Journal of Financial Therapy, and the nation’s first academic financial therapy program. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, the Financial Therapy Association certification committee, and three editorial review boards.
Financial therapy is the integration of emotion, thoughts, behavior, relationships, and its effect on financial and overall well-being. Financial therapists tap into one or more of these areas to help clients make changes to Boost individual, couple, and family financial and overall well-being. This presentation introduces basic concepts of financial therapy, including what it is, clients’ money beliefs, 2-3 tools that professionals can implement with their clients, and how to collaborate with a financial therapist.
January 18, 2023
Dr. Mary Bell Carlson, CFP®, AFC® is a financial behavior expert and a well-known speaker and author. Mary has worked in both the military and government sectors for over a decade, helping Boost her clients’ personal finances. Mary founded Chief Financial Mom.com, a personal finance education blog to help other busy moms. She is also the co-host of the Real Money, Real Experts podcast and an adjunct faculty member for the financial planning programs at the University of Georgia and Texas Tech University.
Recognition of the impact of psychology on financial decisions is ever increasing, as is evidenced by the CFP Board’s accurate decision to include components of psychology in the updated CFP® examination. This webinar will focus on the impact of psychology on clients’ financial decisions, with an emphasis on communication essentials that can be applied directly in practice.
March 15, 2023
Ryan Law, CFP® and AFC®, is the Director of the Utah Valley University (UVU) Money Success Center. An award-winning educator, teaching financial counseling courses as part of the Personal Financial Planning Program at UVU, Ryan is also the author of the book “Student Loan Planning” and co-editor of the book “Financial Counseling.”
Money consistently tops the list of sources of stress for Americans Money is also the leading cause of stress in relationships. In this presentation, Ryan will discuss money anxiety and methods financial advisors can utilize to help their clients overcome money anxiety through education, the physical office environment, money mindfulness, and communication skills.
About the Foundation for Financial Planning
The Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) is a Washington, DC-based 501(c)(3) charitable organization, solely devoted to supporting the delivery of pro bono financial planning to at-risk populations, including active military members and wounded veterans, people with cancer and other serious medical diagnoses, seniors and family caregivers, low-income individuals and their families, domestic violence survivors and many more. Dedicated to powering pro bono financial planning, FFP has provided more than $8.3 million in grants to national and community-based pro bono programs; worked with partners to activate more than 24,000 financial planners to volunteer their time and talents; and acted as a leader and catalyst to foster a rich tradition of pro bono service across the financial planning profession. Visit FFPprobono.org to learn more.
About the Financial Behavior Keynote Group
Financial Behavior Keynote Group, LLC was founded in 2022 as a consortium of financial behavior experts who have spent years studying financial behavior and implementing proven solutions for clients. It is a full-service keynote speaking and consulting team catering to financial planning, coaching, counseling, and therapy professionals. Visit https://keynote.financial/ to learn more.
CONTACT: Kate Rambo FiComm Partners for FFP 617-794-3825 Kate.Rambo@ficommpartners.com
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