Students join Teach For America to make an impact

Students find a path to ensure "every child has the same opportunity to get an incredible transformational education"

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Photo courtesy of Jessica Nenow.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Nenow.

Some students jump right into the workforce after they graduate and some decide to continue their education by going to graduate school, but many students have strived to make a difference in education by working for Teach for America.

Teach for America, also known as TFA, works to give children living in poverty in the United States an excellent education. The values of TFA are transformational change, leadership, teamwork, diversity, respect and humility. TFA has 46 regions and the Dallas/Fort Worth area is in the Southwest region.

Rachel Harpster is the recruitment manager for TFA who represents TCU, Southern Methodist University, Baylor University, Texas Tech University and Austin College.

Harpster said TFA exists to help eliminate the injustice of the unequal educational opportunites.

Harpster was a TFA Corps member from 2010 to 2012. She said that 15 students from the university have been accepted into the program so far for this year. She said that she thinks university students are attracted to TFA because the program is aligned with the university's mission statement.

TFA is a two-year commitment that places Corps members in inner city or rural areas. Harpster said about two-thirds of the Corps members continue teaching after their two-year commitment.

Bianca Castro graduated from the university in May 2012 and is now in her first year of teaching for TFA.

“My experience has been so eye-opening. I can say from August when school started until today I’ve been through a lot of challenges, a lot of hard times, a lot of great moments with my students, and I’ve learned so much so far in the classroom,” Castro said, “It’s been such a great experience to positively impact 21 students' lives daily just through being in the classroom with them for about eight hours a day.”

Gary Briggs graduated from the university in December 2010 and is a TFA Corps member teaching fifth and sixth grade writing at a charter school in his hometown of New Orleans.

“It’s been incredible. I can’t imagine really teaching anywhere else other than New Orleans because it’s home for me,” Briggs said about his experience with TFA.

Briggs said his second year teaching has been a lot better than his first because he is better adjusted and more established as a teacher.

“Until you’re actually in the trenches, until you actually work with these students, you have no idea how far behind these students are,” Briggs said, “Coming in as an inexperienced teacher last year and dealing with students who literally could not read as an 11 and 12-year-old student from New Orleans. It was jarring. It was shocking to me. I could not fathom that in this country students were being left behind…”

Liberal arts graduate student Justin Trejo applied for the program and is waiting to find out if he has been accepted.

Trejo said he is from one of the TFA regions and wants to give back to communities similar to where he is from.

“A lot of my life I’ve been the underdog, so to see kids that are supposed to be underprivileged rise up and possibly inspire them to go college, that’s a big thing,” Trejo said, “It’s a matter of inspiring kids to not just do good for that year but to want to strive and go to college and get degrees.”

Ross Thomason is a TFA Corps member who is a high school English teacher in Dallas. He said he heard about TFA in college and really respected the people he knew who had been successful in the program.

“Teach for America’s model was particularly interesting because it really has a greater purpose than teaching and it’s really to impact education on any level possible,” Thomason said.

Thomason said TFA helps develop one into a leader in one's school and classroom. He also said TFA is more about developing leaders who want to serve in education. 

Senior political science and history double major Pearce Edwards was accepted into the program this year. Edwards will be teaching in Atlanta, GA.

Edwards said his main focus at the university was community service and that he wants to invest in the education issue.

Senior political science and psychology double major Jonathan Davis said he learned about TFA through the things he was involved with regarding education.

Making an impact in education can drive people to serve for Teach for America. To learn more about working with TFA and helping close the educational achievement gap visit the website at www.teachforamerica.org.

This story was updated on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 9:32 p.m.

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