Meet the trio of teachers in Teach for Alamance 

Matt Trez, Matt LaFuria and Zoë Rein from the Class of 2023 are part of a new program for recent Elon graduates who want to earn a master’s degree from the university on a full scholarship when they teach for two years in the Alamance-Burlington School System.

Matt Trez remembers the joy his mother brought home with her from work as an elementary school teacher. Zoë Rein recalls high school instructors who built her confidence through their writing assignments.

Matt LaFuria? High school never challenged him, so he misbehaved and underachieved. Twenty years and three tours of duty later, the retired U.S. Army staff sergeant will tell you that students who act out don’t need detention. They need a teacher willing to give them a chance.

Trez, Rein and LaFuria represent the first cohort of Teach for Alamance, a program established in 2023 by the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education at Elon University to recruit and retain top talent to local public schools.

In exchange for a two-year commitment to teach in the Alamance-Burlington School System, new Elon graduates receive a full scholarship to the university’s Master of Education in Innovation program, as well as a small annual stipend to help with living expenses.

Teach for Alamance participants grow their knowledge of innovative approaches to teaching, deepen their knowledge of educational research, and develop a broader understanding of the way that young people use technology to learn and connect with peers. The program is now recruiting its next cohort from the Class of 2024.

“It’s important for Elon University and the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education to support the very schools in our community that help us prepare teacher candidates for successful careers,” said Dean Ann Bullock. “By providing a program to entice graduates to stay and teach here, we strengthen those relationships, which benefits all involved.”

Introducing the 2023-2025 Teach for Alamance Fellows

Matt Trez ’23 G’25

Matt Trez ’23 G’25
Eighth Grade Social Studies
Turrentine Middle School

“Any opportunity I get to step up my game is something I’m going to take.”

Matt Trez joined the Elon Phoenix football team in 2019 as a preferred walk-on offensive lineman. Then came COVID. With time to assess his goals, the Connecticut native hung up his cleats and switched majors from finance to education. He needn’t look far for inspiration.

“My mom loves her teaching job more than anything,” Trez said. “She loves her kids. And I had to make a decision between possibly sitting at a desk for the rest of my life or a job where I could connect with people and build relationships.”

Student teaching led Trez to an opportunity to help coach football for Williams High School in Burlington. How could he not jump at the eventual full-time job offer to teach eighth grade at nearby Turrentine Middle School? More than a career, Trez had discovered a community filled with the very children of faculty and staff who’d mentored him at Elon.

“My kids are on the cusp of becoming young adults. Having a part in their formation is really, really interesting,” he said. “I also love that I’ll get to see these kids grow into their own and flourish once they go off to a high school where I coach.”

The Teach for Alamance program simply made sense. “It’s a dream deal,” Trez said. “The people at Elon during my undergraduate studies really cared about making sure we made it to the finish line. I feel like I’m getting that same support now. I don’t want my educational journey to stop. I’m always going to do what I can to get to that next level and better myself.”

Zoë Rein ’23 G’25

Zoë Rein ’23 G’25
Ninth Grade English and Language Arts
Eastern Alamance High School

“I always loved learning and I wanted to keep learning and do a job I thought would be different every single day.”

Freshman year of high school was tough for Zoë Rein. Her family had just moved to Colorado from their longtime home in Kansas City, and the quiet teenager was lacking confidence in her new environs. She soon met teachers who encouraged her love of the language arts and the passion for poetry she’d harbored since reading Emily Dickinson as a child.

Rein’s college search would lead her to Elon and an Honors Program with the flexibility to double major in mathematics and English with teacher licensure. She today teaches language arts and advises a poetry club at Eastern Alamance High School.

“Writing is what makes me feel like I’m helping students do something they’ll be able to do for the rest of their lives, something that helps them empower themselves and find a voice,” Rein said. “That’s the thing that brought me out of my shell.”

Rein hadn’t planned on graduate school so soon after starting her career. A self-described “huge researcher,” she wanted to work for a time, then pursue answers to questions drawn from classroom experiences. But earning a master’s degree on a full scholarship? Turned out that Teach for Alamance was too good to turn down.

Rein notes other benefits to pursuing a master’s degree as a rookie teacher. The program reinforces concepts learned as an undergraduate and students have access to faculty who provide advice for overcoming the rough moments all new educators face.

“Some days it can be really hard to remind myself of all the things I know are pedagogically good,” Rein said. “Reading again about effective teaching helps me reframe what I need to do.”

Matt LaFuria ’23 G’25

Matt LaFuria ’23 G’25
Ninth Grade Social Studies
Southeast Alamance High School

“The more I can learn about how to use innovation and how to embrace diversity in the classroom, the better.”

It was supposed to be a career until it wasn’t. The U.S. Army medically retired Staff Sgt. Matt LaFuria a few years ago because of a knee injury and concussions suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan. A vocational rehabilitationist suggested he consider a job in the classroom.

Intrigued, LaFuria already believed that some of his fellow soldiers should have known more about the world in which they were sent to fight. It’s cliche, he admits, that the “hows” and the “whys” of the world repeat themselves – yet it’s important to spot “precursors to bad things.”

After earning his Elon degree, LaFuria accepted a teaching job at Alamance County’s brand-new Southeast Alamance High School. He’s coaching the cross country and track teams, and he gets to teach in the same building where his oldest son is a ninth grader. The Alamance-Burlington School System suited his lifestyle. So does Teach for Alamance.

LaFuria emphasizes the way in which the Master of Education in Innovation program builds upon the knowledge and skills he acquired as an undergraduate. Master’s candidates are studying effective techniques to engage students with language barriers, who come from diverse economic or cultural backgrounds, or who bring to class unique learning abilities.

He chuckles as he recounts his own high school education two decades ago marked by occasional suspensions. “I got bored,” he said, “and when I got bored, I acted out.”

That experience helps him connect with all students, including those who defy authority. “You can see that if you give these kids a chance, and give them a little leniency, and try to understand what they have going on, they start to open up to you,” he said. “A lot of these kids start to realize that, alright, if I make a couple of mistakes, it’s not the end of the world.”

About the Master of Education in Innovation program

Elon University’s 30-hour Master of Education in Innovation program is a part-time, distance education program designed for teachers who are active educators in the K-12 setting delivered online in the summer, spring and fall semesters.

The M.Ed program is intentionally designed to disrupt practitioners’ traditional concepts of schooling and move teachers toward more progressive visions and praxis. Candidates are:

  • Introduced to a range of progressive student-centered pedagogies such as project-based learning and place-based education
  • Asked to reimagine education within a constructivist framework, allowing for equitable learning opportunities that are respectful and responsive of students’ backgrounds
  • Offered opportunities to experiment in their own practice with innovative pedagogies