Kaitlyn Siedlarczyk (M.T. ’15): Leveling the playing field

RTR program helps history teacher find her passion

Kaitlyn Siedlarczyk (M.T. '15)
Kaitlyn Siedlarczyk (M.T. '15) (Photo courtesy Jud Froelich, VCU Office of Development and Alumni Relations)

By Janet Showalter
VCU Office of Alumni Relations

Kaitlyn Siedlarczyk (B.A.’15/H&S; M.T.’15/E) has a simple philosophy when it comes to teaching.

“It’s a belief that all children, no matter their circumstances in life, deserve access to the best teachers and the best resources available,” she says. “I want to give them both.”

Through Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richmond Teacher Residency Program, Siedlarczyk is getting that chance. Three years after completing RTR, Siedlarczyk says she is now better equipped to help students from high-needs communities meet their potential.

“Wherever you are from, you are still a kid,” she says. “But students from affluent neighborhoods have access to so much more. We need to even the playing field.”

RTR is a teacher residency program for graduates that prepares teachers to make an immediate impact on classrooms in hard-to-staff schools. The program’s mission is to cultivate a pipeline of extraordinary teachers committed to closing the achievement gap for students.

Established in 2011, RTR is a partnership with the VCU School of Education and Richmond-area localities. The program serves 34 elementary, middle and high schools in the cities of Richmond and Petersburg as well as Chesterfield County with plans to expand to Henrico County in 2019.

“What sets RTR apart is that it allows us to be there all year with the students. It allows you to form relationships with the kids, the parents and the community.”

“Our motto is, ‘We can lift up the community from inside the classroom,’” says Kim McKnight, Ph.D. (Ph.D. ’17), director of RTR Petersburg and Chesterfield. “Every decision we make centers around what is best for the kids. We help our residents grow so that they in turn can help their students grow.”

Residents are paired with a veteran teacher, called a clinical resident coach, for a one-year placement. They teach during the day and attend classes at night. At the end of the year, residents graduate with a master’s degree, a teacher’s license and a full year’s experience in the classroom.

“What sets RTR apart is that it allows us to be there all year with the students,” Siedlarczyk says. “It allows you to form relationships with the kids, the parents and the community.”

RTR, which provides a stipend for the residency year that pays the majority of tuition costs, is supported by federal, state and local funding as well as private philanthropy. The program recently received $2.4 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education. Since 2012, RTR has prepared 144 teachers. The program requires that residents make an additional three-year commitment to teaching in the same school or school district after graduation.

After completing the RTR program, Siedlarczyk, who also earned a bachelor’s in history from VCU, taught eighth grade at Elkhardt Middle School and then ninth-and 10th-grade history at Richmond’s Huguenot High School. By moving up a grade level each fall, she has taught many of the same students year after year.

“We have watched each other grow up,” she says. “It’s been wonderful. They have taught me so much about resiliency, loyalty and family. They have taught me how to be more understanding about people who might be different than you.”

For the 2018-19 school year, Siedlarczyk is teaching 11th grade at Huguenot and serving as a clinical resident coach for RTR, giving back to the program that has given her so much.

“I could not have asked for a better mentor,” Siedlarczyk says. “She taught me everything from how to set up a classroom to how to respect a student’s boundaries. She was always there for me. It’s time for me to help someone else grow as a teacher.”

Even though her three-year commitment to RTR is over, Siedlarczyk plans to devote the remainder of her career to high-needs communities.

“These are my kids,” she says. “This is my home, and I couldn’t be happier.”

This article original appeared in VCU Alumni’s fall 2018 Scarab and Shafer Court Connections magazines. VCU Alumni can access current and archived issues at www.vcualumni.org (free account registration required).