Retired Bellevue music teacher James Taylor just happened to see a local cable TV program. Because of that, Ingrid Morente of Wenatchee—the first person in her family to attend college—had help getting into Washington State University’s highly competitive teacher education program.
What Taylor saw in 1998 was then-Dean Judy Mitchell talking about the WSU College of Education’s efforts to recruit and mentor students of color. Taylor, a Spokane native, was a 1963 graduate of WSU. Although he was white, there were many students of color in his western Washington classrooms and choruses. He wanted them to succeed, and knew it was important for them to see faces like their own among their teachers. Inspired by the dean’s message, he contacted the college and offered to help.
He died eight months later. When his estate was settled, it included $186,766 for the establishment of the James Taylor Future Teachers of Color Endowment.
For a decade now, the endowment has been used to help minority students. Its impact will be on display Nov. 16 when Future Teachers and Leaders of Color, as it’s now known, hosts its third annual Thanksgiving dinner. Current and prospective students in the Department of Teaching and Learning will mingle with faculty at the invitation-only evening of solidarity and conversation.
Two FTLOC student ambassadors have been busy planning the event. One is Ingrid, whose family emigrated from Guatemala to Wenatchee when she was a child.
“I’ve always worked with children – volunteering for Sunday school, doing day care,” she said.
After high school graduation, she worked three years as a para-educator at Washington Elementary School in Wenatchee. A teacher friend encouraged her to go to college so she could someday have a classroom of her own. She got an associate’s degree at Wenatchee Valley Community College and applied for admission to WSU.
Ingrid learned that admission required an interview in addition to paperwork and grade transfers. FTLOC members who were already enrolled in Pullman helped prepare her by conducting a mock interview. This year, she’s returning the favor for prospective students.
In recent years, the FTLOC program has recruited student ambassadors and provided them with scholarships from the James Taylor endowment. So Ingrid has helping paying her tuition. So does Margarita Vidrio, a Kennewick High School graduate who is in her second year as an ambassador.
Unlike Ingrid, whose goal is to teach elementary school, Margarita plans to be a high school math teacher. The passion for education runs in the family; she has an aunt and two cousins who are teachers in Mexico.
The two young women did not get to meet their benefactor, but their enthusiasm for education seems in keeping with his own. One of Taylor’s former students said of him: “He worked 15 hours a day and on weekends. He never turned a kid away saying ‘You know what? I want to, but I’m too busy.’ ”