Texas A&M University senior Casey Kirk ’20 spent her primary and secondary school years with a close-up view of what special education looks like. Her school days in Cypress, Texas, were defined by the academics and activities of a typical student; her twin sister’s were not.
Kirk’s sister, Taylor, was born with cerebral palsy—a motor disorder that impacts muscular control. Despite Taylor’s physical limitations, however, Kirk said that socially, she can “hold her own.”
Taylor thrived around other students, Kirk said, whether that was in choir or during homecoming festivities. Witnessing Taylor’s drive to achieve goals and to be included in everyday school activities inspired Kirk herself to become a teacher and advocate for special education students.
“When I become a teacher, it’s important to me that special education isn’t in a corner in the back of the school,” she said. “These students want to be involved. They want that normalcy. I want to be the bridge that makes that happen.”
Education majors like Kirk, however, are well-aware of their future financial outlook. In a profession with notoriously low salaries, the motivation to avoid facing a significant amount of student debt right out of the gate is very real. It’s a reality that ultimately keeps many gifted teacher candidates out of the education field altogether.
The Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation is endeavoring to change that outcome.
Through its Raising Texas Teachers initiative, Raise Your Hand Texas has partnered with education programs at 10 Texas universities to offer Charles Butt Scholarships for Aspiring Teachers. Named for the chairman and CEO of the H-E-B supermarket chain and Raise Your Hand founder, the Charles Butt Scholarship provides $8,000 annually to future teachers committed to teaching in economically disadvantaged Texas public schools or in hard-to-fill subject areas.
At Texas A&M, that subject area is special education.
Dr. Melissa Fogarty ’12, Texas A&M clinical associate professor and Special Education Division chair, points to the severe shortage of special education teachers in Texas. The Charles Butt Scholarships not only support current special education majors, she said, but also encourage other teacher candidates to seek a special education concentration, equipping them to fill these desperately needed positions.
Charles Butt Scholars not only receive financial support, but also training, mentorship and networking opportunities to encourage their teaching endeavors during their college years and beyond. Through this program, Raise Your Hand Texas wants to ensure that promising, enthusiastic teacher candidates like Kirk will not only end up in Texas public school classrooms, but will also have the tools, knowledge and continued support needed to stay there.
A Passion for Teaching
Texas A&M senior and Charles Butt Scholar Samantha Mosqueda ’21 has always enjoyed working with kids. So when she needed to pick a major, she landed on education.
By the end of her freshman year, however, Mosqueda realized that a teacher’s impact goes far beyond “working with kids.” Teachers can have a tremendous influence not only on the life of a child, she said, but also on society as a whole.
“I learned that making progress in the world starts in our schools,” Mosqueda said.
As a first-generation college student, however, the Houston native wrestled with the notion that she needed to seek a more lucrative profession to help support her family. But in the end, her passion for teaching eclipsed her low-salary expectations.
“There’s no way I can’t be a teacher,” Mosqueda said. “I don’t care about making a lot of money because no amount of money can fulfill me the way being in a classroom does.”
Like Mosqueda, Texas A&M senior and Charles Butt Scholar Kayleigh Holub ’21 understands the influence a caring teacher can have on the life of a student—especially when that student has special needs. “I want my students to learn,” Holub explained, “but I also want them to know they are loved, valued and appreciated beyond their family circle.”
During her last two years of high school in Richmond, Texas, Holub participated in the Peer Assistance Leadership and Service (PALS) program, where she was paired with younger students in area schools. One of those students was in a special education classroom.
“This little boy always greeted me with the biggest smile and was super sweet,” Holub said. “You could tell he loved life. The PALS program brought him so much joy.”
Holub entered Texas A&M as a special education major and has dedicated herself to learning about the details intrinsic to this specialization—factors such as legal issues, accommodations and individualized education plans. Ideally, she’d like to be a co-teacher in a classroom that accommodates both general and special needs students.
During the spring 2021 semester, 32 Texas A&M special education majors received financial, academic and professional support as Charles Butt Scholars, while another 18 had already graduated. Those 18 graduates are among more than 100 former Charles Butt scholars statewide who are now in the teaching field.
Christina Dunigan serves as Raise Your Hand Texas’ Charles Butt Scholarship program coordinator. She and Cody Huie, vice president of programs for Raise Your Hand Texas, explained that the foundation not only wants to send qualified teacher candidates into the education field, but also wants to give them the tools to flourish. In creating the scholarship program, Raise Your Hand Texas considered teacher candidate needs from many different angles.
“Our program is much more than supplying funds,” Dunigan explained. “We try to offer holistic support.”
Huie added, “Funding—though important—isn’t sufficient. We hope we’re creating an environment where we’re also providing the resources needed to help these future teachers navigate the field and receive the kind of support they need to become successful educators.”
Their efforts appear to be paying off.
Kirk, Mosqueda and Holub agreed that the Charles Butt Scholarship program has not only eased their financial anxiety, but has also provided them with both invaluable professional development opportunities and a close-knit community of fellow scholars and seasoned educators. It has also allowed them to choose their own mentor from a pool of Texas teachers and administrators.
Mosqueda readily admits that the financial support from her Charles Butt Scholarship has helped her sleep better at night. But the morale boost she’s found in other aspects of the program have also contributed to her excitement about her future career.
“I am so thankful for this scholarship because, more than anything, it has brought me together with people who have the same vision I do,” she said. “And that’s so empowering.”
To learn how you can create scholarships for aspiring teachers in K-12 education, contact Jody Ford ’99, senior director of development, at (979) 847-8655 or by submitting a message using the form below.