School is different in the inner city, but the students aren’t. That’s why some recent Central grads choose to work with Teach for America (TFA), an organization that places teachers in the most challenging jobs—where the pay is poor and the students need the most support. These dedicated teachers work to close the achievement gap, which divides middle and upper class students from those in the poorest schools. Though it may not sound like a desirable job, TFA is actually a prestigious program that accepted only 11 percent of applicants in 2011. Here are three alumni who’ve taken on the challenge of helping the kids who have fallen behind.
Majors: International studies, Spanish
Blythe worked at the stereotypical inner city school—a big brick building with plaster falling from the walls. Students came to class hungry, gangs roamed the halls and teachers didn’t get the supplies they needed.
Blythe taught 10th and 11th grade Spanish in one of the worst schools in Connecticut. Despite the challenges she faced on a daily basis, she learned to love teaching. Although she wasn’t an education major at Central, Blythe moved on to teach at a new charter school after completing her two-year term with TFA. She’s proud that every one of the school’s graduates is going on to college, due in part to the many TFA teachers and alumni who work there. “Organizations like TFA are jumping into the heart of the problem and putting motivated, goal-driven people into classrooms,” she says.
Blythe is one of those motivated people, and her students appreciate it. One came up to Blythe crying at graduation because no one in her family had shown up. With a big hug, the student thanked Blythe for pushing her through senior year, making her the first in her family to graduate from high school.
Majors: Elementary education, Spanish
Mendez wasn’t an education major until her junior year at Central, when she volunteered at an elementary school in Merida, Yucatan, while studying abroad. She came back to Pella with a new major and a new passion.
When she first researched TFA, she was shocked to see the statistics of the achievement gap. “TFA converged well with the goals I had—not only having a career but a real purpose in life,” she says. “Something to wake up for.”
Mendez teaches fifth-grade math in St. Louis, and she taught fourth-grade last year. Even though her education major prepared her well, she sometimes finds the work overwhelming. “It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day challenges,” she says, “but at the end of the week, I believe I’m providing something different—making a difference in students’ lives.”
Mendez is especially glad she can use her other major on the job. Although a majority of her students are African-American, some are Latino, which means their parents can speak to Mendez without a translator—an uncommon experience for them. “It’s nice to see I’m reaching out to a different population, one I share a similar background with,” she says.
Major: Elementary education
Staman has always had a passion for service, which was a big reason she chose Central. It’s also the reason she joined TFA and began teaching sixth-grade math and reading in Baltimore this August.
Although she’s not very far into her assignment, Staman already feels that the Central Teacher Academy gave her an excellent foundation and exposed her to many different classrooms, including a prep school in London during study abroad.
That school couldn’t be more different from the one she is teaching in now, but the students are just as eager to learn, despite the fact that they’re two to four years behind. When Staman asked her students to write about their goals, one added: “This is my dream, and they always say never give up on your dreams.”
What’s the achievement gap?
- At Tier 1 colleges, only 10 percent of students come from the bottom half of the income distribution.
- Just a little over half of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school, compared to over three-quarters of white students.
- On average, African-American and Latino 4th graders are nearly three academic years behind their white peers.
- Nearly 90 percent of Latino and African-American middle and high school students read below grade level.
- Students eligible for free or reduced lunch are approximately two years of learning behind those not eligible for the program.
Source: The Education Equality Project