Take a closer look at North Philadelphia. Slow that hurried walk to Tuttleman and make eye contact with those bright-eyed students waiting for the crossing guard to escort them across Montgomery Avenue. These are our nation’s children. These children need you.
Students in low-income communities, like your neighbors around Temple University, face daunting obstacles from the moment they are born. Our country’s educational system, ideally the great equalizer that would enable low-income children to compete with their more privileged peers living on the Main Line, does very little to improve a child’s odds of success.
Consider for a moment this sobering reality: 9-year-olds in low-income communities are already three grade levels behind their peers in higher income communities and only about half of the 13 million children currently growing up in poverty will graduate from high school. Those who do graduate from high school will perform on a level comparable to Eighth graders in wealthier areas. Imagine walking into your freshman IH class functioning on an 8th-grade level.
While these statistics are daunting, they are not insurmountable. Every year, Teach For America recruits motivated, committed and idealistic college graduates who set out to prove that children from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds can compete with any students in the country when they are given the level of instruction they obviously deserve. Closing this achievement gap, the disparity that exists between low-income students and their peers in more affluent districts is the overall goal of Teach For America.
I joined this movement in 2006 as a graduate of Temple University. With a degree in political science and no teaching experience, I committed to teach two years in Baltimore as well as a five-week summer institute, where I learned teaching strategies, classroom management techniques and taught summer school. I have never experienced growth as I did that summer.
Looking back, I now realize how little I understood about the growing epidemic of educational inequity sweeping our country’s schools. When I walked through the doors of Walbrook High School in West Baltimore on Aug. 28, I realized I stood face to face with the achievement gap. After analyzing the results of a reading and government diagnostic at the beginning of the year, I realized that many of my 10th graders couldn’t define the word “government” and most read below a sixth-grade reading level.
My skills and abilities are helping to close America’s achievement gap. I urge each of you to join Teach for America’s movement to end educational inequity. Level the playing field for those children crossing North Broad Street — we as a nation cannot continue to look the other way. Don’t walk by our nation’s greatest injustice. Affect change- apply before Feb. 15.
Jessica Gasper is a 2006 graduate of Temple. She currently teaches social studies at Entrepreneurial Academy in Baltimore, Md.