Recent grads take on education inequalities

By ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON

Ian Stormont, Teach for America’s recruitment director, remembers an e-mail he recently… Ian Stormont, Teach for America’s recruitment director, remembers an e-mail he recently received from one of his former students, Crystal.

The e-mail read:

“Mr. Stormont, I’m in class right now – boring – but I’m happy to be here and the only reason I’m here is because you believed in me. – Crystal.”

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in genetics and bacteriology, Stormont taught science at a high school in a low-income section of Phoenix, Ariz. for two years.

When he met Crystal, her goal was to become a hairdresser.

Now, Crystal is a student at Arizona State University.

Teach for America is a program that aims to eliminate the achievement gap in the United States by placing high-performing college graduates in two-year teaching positions at some of the country’s poorest schools.

Wendy Kopp was a student at Princeton University when she founded Teach For America in 1990. As a senior thesis project, Kopp raised $2.5 million to place 500 college graduates in teaching positions at six low-income school districts.

Today, Teach For America includes 5,000 teachers in 26 areas. By 2010, Teach For America plans to have 7,500 corps members in 33 placement regions.

Next year, the program plans to open placement sites in Indianapolis, Indiana and Kansas City, Missouri.

This past year, over 18,000 college graduates applied nationwide and just over 3,000 were accepted to the program.

Corps members are employed by the school district and earn a first year teacher’s salary, ranging from $25,000 to $44,000 per year.

Twenty-one Pitt graduates of the class of 2007 are in their first year of service for Teach for America.

Pitt senior Rachel Jones is in the process of applying to the program.

“Everyone wants to make millions and eventually give back,” Jones said. “Why not start out your life with giving back?”

As a campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America, Jones presents the program to classes and student organizations and also looks for potential prospects.

“It takes a special person to want to give so much,” she said. “But you also gain skills, knowledge and credibility.”

Before beginning the first year of teaching, Teach For America requires members to attend five weeks of training. After the five-week period, school districts grant members temporary teaching certificates.

“You are not an inexperienced teacher by the time you step foot into your classroom,” Stormont said.

The intensity level of the program leads 10 to 15 percent of members to drop out before completing their two-year term, according to a 2006 Newsweek article.

Some of those that left the program felt as if they did not receive enough support from Teach for America and the school district. Others felt overwhelmed, according to Newsweek.

Stormont pointed out that there are bound to be negative experiences within any large organization.

“The program is challenging and it requires a lot of extra work,” said Stormont. “But the successes far outweigh the challenges.”

The mission of Teach for America is two-fold. While corps members directly impact the lives of under-privileged children, the hope is that alumni will become advocates for educational reform. Following their experience in Teach for America, 66 percent of alumni are directly involved in education and the careers of 40 percent of alumni relate directly to low-income communities, according to Stormont.

“Our nation’s most pressing problem is educational inequality,” Jones said. “And it is our generation that must step in.”

The next application deadline for students interested in applying is Nov. 2.

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