Teach for America hires graduates for poorer schools

Teach for America, a national corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in under-resourced public schools, conducted an informational meeting Wednesday evening in Memorial Union. The meeting, representing the organization's first active recruitment at MU, aimed to leave the audience with one message: There is a huge achievement gap within our nation's school system, and Teach for America is striving to find college students willing to work to close that gap.

The organization looks for graduates of all academic backgrounds who exemplify this high level of dedication to achievement, critical thinking and constant learning. A rigorous application and interviewing process ensures that when the classroom door closes and the responsibility falls squarely on their shoulders, the participants are not only knowledgeable but inspired to make a difference.

"We seem to be growing, which is extremely disheartening," said Nakia Tomlinson, Midwest Recruitment Director and 1996 corps member, indicating an increasing need for teachers nationwide. "This year, we will dramatically increase our recruitment efforts. Next year, we even will be adding new sites, including Detroit and a Native American site."

Students such as senior Gary Parciak, an education major, and graduate student Mandy Michel, an English student, said they had great interest in joining the growing movement.

"If you really look at our school system, it is honestly pretty poor," Parciak said." With Teach for America, I would have the opportunity to get in and help the kids that need it the most."

Michel, who attended an inner-city school, also said she feels adamantly that the gap between the poor and the affluent could be closed through access to quality education.

"I would feel better about myself if I dedicate myself to teaching those who need to change the world, instead of those who already see the world working for them," she said. "In this system of stratification, I think it's so important to get involved with an organization that actually tries to enrich the lives of those children who are often left behind."

Sarah Myers, Midwest Campiagn Director and 1998 corps member, spent two years teaching 10th-grade English in one of the most economically deprived areas of the country, the Mississippi Delta.

"These children living in the Delta don't have the kinds of experiences we've had," she said. "They have experienced nothing outside of their own personal culture."

This inescapable culture, she said, consists of a segregated school system and a society paralyzed by poverty. Myers was shocked to find that her classroom had only 15 sets of books for more than 200 students. However, even more daunting was the challenge of teaching 10th-graders whose reading levels ranged from third to 11th grade.

Tomlinson stressed the reality of such disparity between public schools and the great need for motivated educators in order to eliminate the gap. Teach for America, she said, attempts to tap the passion of recent college graduates of all majors in order to create a diverse corps of teachers. Following an intense five-week training period, the candidates are placed in teaching positions from kindergarten to 12th grade in 15 locations across the country, from urban Chicago to rural North Carolina.

"We need to make sure we're giving the Mississippi Delta or Newark, N.J., the best education we can because we really honestly believe all children can achieve the huge goals we set for them," Tomlinson said.

More information about Teach for America is available at their Web site: http://www.teachforamerica.org or at 1-800-832-1230 ext. 225.

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