Recent Elon graduates join Teach for America
For many of the alumni who return to grade school classrooms this fall, Teach for America gives an opportunity to fight educational inequality.
By Natalie Allison '13
Fourteen alumni in Elon University’s Class of 2012 will return to grade school classrooms this fall as members of Teach For America, a national nonprofit organization that recruits recent college graduates to teach in high-need classrooms in rural and urban American communities.
The recent graduates will join more than 10,000 first- and second-year corps members working in 46 states and Washington, D.C, including communities in three new locations: Northeast Ohio-Cleveland, Southwest Ohio and Sacramento, Calif.
Of the 5,800 first-year teachers, 38 percent identify as people of color, including 13 percent who are African-American and 10 percent who are Hispanic. More than one-third received Pell Grants, and 23 percent are the first in their families to earn a college degree, according to a Teach for America news release.
“More than 16 million children are growing up below the poverty line, and unless things change, only 8 percent of them will get through college by the time they’re 24,” said Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America. “Given the progress we’re seeing in schools and districts across the country, we know this is a solvable problem. I’m so inspired by the individuals in our large and diverse corps who have chosen to join the effort to tackle it. With hard work, dedication, and the partnership of their schools and communities, they are poised to make a real difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students while gaining the perspective and experience necessary for a lifetime of educational leadership and advocacy.”
The two-year commitment comes with a salary based on geographic region, health benefits and opportunities to pursue graduate degrees through partner universities.
With majors ranging from journalism to economics, Elon University’s 2012 Teach for America corps members decided to join for many reasons, all of which align with the organization’s commitment to expand educational opportunities for children facing poverty in America.
Why some 2012 graduates decided to apply for and accept a position in the corps:
Name: Simone LaHood
Hometown: Grosse Pointe, Mich.
Assignment: Middle school math in Charlotte, N.C.
"I decided to join TFA so that I could become part of the movement to address the egregious civil rights violation that is occurring in this country everywhere. There is a huge achievement gap between social economic statuses in the United States and is becoming even more apparent to me this summer as I teach 5th grade summer school to a group of low-income children in Tulsa, Okla. So far, TFA has been an amazing experience and I recommend dedicated and determined students to apply. This job is not for the person looking for a chill 9-5 job -- the future is literally in our hands."
Name: Lauren Wilmer
Hometown: Frederick, Md.
Assignment: Middle school science and math in Atlanta, Ga.
“I have always had a passion for education reform and exploring alternative methods of educating the next generation to close the achievement gap. As a black female who graduated from Elon University, I am very aware of my privilege and with that comes a sense of responsibility to children who are not afforded those same opportunities. My mission is to dedicate my time and energy in and outside my classroom to empower each and every one of my students. Education is the biggest civil rights movement of my generation and I am elated to be a part of the movement!”
Name: Stephanie Pinch
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Assignment: Washington, D.C.
“I am passionate about Teach for America because I believe every child should be given the opportunity for a complete and equal education. Without a doubt, the privileged education I have received has given me tools to make me more successful in life than if I hadn't had the same education. The opportunity to work one on one with a child and see their growth in learning and their enthusiasm for learning increase is truly a gift. Every student can learn, sometimes we must be creative in how we convey the information in order for the student to understand it. I'm excited to be a part of this journey in learning for a child.”
Name: Sarah Naiman
Major: International Studies & Economics
Hometown: Shady Side, Maryland
Assignment: High school geometry and algebra in southern New Mexico
“Life is not fair and I refuse to believe my father when he said I just had to deal with it. I'm going to deal with it by changing it. I was interested in solving the problem before my summer institute of training. Now I'm passionate about solving the problem. I'm passionate for Jakaree and Miguel who are on ninth grade reading levels in the sixth grade at a Title One school in Phoenix. I'm passionate for Victor and Blanca who barely speak English and for the friendships they have with Miguel and Jakaree. I'm passionate for the fact that all of the kids this summer deserve not only to receive a fair and equal education but to have the opportunities to reach their goals, whether they seek to be a cardiologist like Angela or a ninja master like Gabriel. Ultimately I want my kids to have the opportunities and personal growth that I received simply because of where I lived."
Name: Ashley Jobe
Major: Print and Online Journalism
Hometown: South Orange, N.J.
Assignment: Seventh grade English in eastern North Carolina
“I am teaching because I would have never discovered the passion and zeal I have for journalism, nor would I have striven to develop a voice in print, had I not had teachers who recognized those talents in me well before I saw them in myself. The ability to communicate both verbally and on paper is an invaluable tool that no child or young adult should be without. Writing well is social and cultural currency - a real life skill that I want to help all to develop.”
Name: Corey Hutkin
Major: History with Secondary Teacher Licensure
Hometown: Doylestown, Pa.
Assignment: Secondary social studies in Philadelphia
“During the fall of my senior year, I was really excited about student teaching the spring. Even though I couldn't wait to get into my classroom, I was caught up in the idea that I might not be able to make the kind of changes I wanted to see in my students if I was working alone. I heard about TFA and the kind of movements they had started throughout the country to close the achievement gap for students with economic disadvantages and was so encouraged to see that I could be a part of a movement making real change for students. I applied and was accepted to the Greater Philadelphia Corps and I accepted the offer almost immediately. Since late June, I have been working with hundreds of other corps members on engaging and rigorous lessons that will give economically disadvantaged students in Philadelphia the same opportunities that I was afforded at my schools.”
Name: Sam Calvert
Major: Print and Online Journalism
Hometown: Woodstock, Ga.
Assignment: Eighth grade math in San Antonio, Texas
“Education is the foundation of everything. Without education, there is very little hope for success for a child. Yet many of the students in our country today are set up for failure. They are not given the same resources, the same quality schools and teachers, or the same level of expectations. They are put in positions to fail, and then the majority of them do. This isn't from a lack of intelligence or ability - these students are plenty capable. It is entirely a product of the education that they are given and the support they receive. This is completely unacceptable. A student's opportunities should not be limited by a circumstance that he or she has absolutely no control over. There are absolutely amazing kids in the United States right now just waiting for someone to come along and believe in them, to give them the resources and support they need to succeed. Teach for America is giving me an opportunity to do just that, and these students deserve it. I honestly couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing right now than teaching these students.”
Name: Jack Rodenfels
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Assignment: Seventh grade English in eastern North Carolina
“Because of the rigor of my public schooling growing up, I was able to attend and graduate from Elon University. However, millions of American children will not be as lucky as I was. Our public schools, largely, are failing, with such a direct correlation between the area you grow up in and your quality of education. That shouldn't be a barrier. Every child deserves an excellent education, and there should be no barriers that hinder that, especially ones that children have no control over such as where they grow up. I am "Teaching for America" to pay back for the excellent educational opportunities I was granted and to show young people that they have a teacher that truly believes in them and their abilities, will push them to academic levels they never thought were possible, and is for whatever they need to ensure that they succeed both in and out of school and get the opportunity to attend the college of their dreams.”
Name: Kathleen Price
Major: International Studies
Hometown: Warrenton, Va.
Assignment: Eighth grade English composition in Philadelphia
“I was first attracted to TFA because I believe that education can and will be the great equalizer. It is not only knowledge of content that will better the lives of our students, but the ability to think critically and to ask questions. The future of our country lies in our children and it is our responsibility to make sure that all of the children in this country have access to quality education. Sitting back and being complacent to the inequity and racism in our school system does not sit well with me, so I decided to join the movement. I am currently in my first week of teaching summer school in Philadelphia and I am more motivated than ever to see my 9th graders succeed. The achievement gap is real; I have seen its face - all 27 of them in that classroom. It is now my time, alongside of so many others, to do something to close that gap.”
Name: Kate MacDonald
Major: Anthropology & History
Hometown: Doylestown, Pa.
Assignment: Seventh grade reading in Philadelphia
“I wanted to apply and join TFA because I believe that educational inequality is one of the greatest human rights issues of our time. All children deserve an amazing education and ‘all’ means all. I wanted to be a part of an organization that had a similar line of thinking and so I joined TFA so I could be a part of creating transformational change with like-minded individuals.”
Name: Mary Kate Hinshaw
Major: English (Literature & Professional Writing & Rhetoric)
Hometown: Levittown, N.Y.
Assignment: Fifth grade math and science in Clarksdale, Miss.
“So many of the opportunities I’ve had throughout my life have been as a result of my educational privileges: good schools, superior teachers, traveling, conducting research. However, it became clear to me early on in my college career that these were indeed privileges, ones that many children in our nation do not and may never have. In a nation that still believes in the importance of giving everyone an equal opportunity, this fact is not only heartbreaking, but unacceptable. I was driven to join TFA especially by my work with the America Reads tutoring program during my four years at Elon. Through America Reads, I worked with many underprivileged children and saw firsthand the disadvantages that their struggles with education caused. However, I also witnessed the impact that individuals dedicated to working tirelessly with those children to help them attain a better education could have. Teach for America offered, in my opinion, the best way to continue doing this, as well as a chance for me to pay forward the educational opportunities I have had.”