The alphabet has 26 letters and a convenient jingle to memorize. The ability to recite the ABCs is an achievement normally mastered during kindergarten.
Unfortunately, countless children in urban, underprivileged areas across the country are deprived of the proper instruction because of a lack of teachers and resources. It is common for second and third graders to be reading and writing on a first grade level and for high school students to have difficulty conquering basic algebra.
The Teach for America (TFA) campaign, founded in 1990 by Wendy Kopp, aims to remedy the state of education in low-income areas by training college graduates to be placed in otherwise empty or overcrowded classrooms. TFA participants devote two years of much-needed teaching service with the potential to earn a teaching certificate and to continue a career in education.
Last year was the first year that Philadelphia was included in the 20 regions across the country that employ TFA members.
“We keep expanding and spreading,” said TaLena Bennett, Undergraduate Coordinator for the TFA campaign at Temple. “There was no set plan [for locations], but Wendy [Kopp] did want this to be come a national thing.”
The original program in 1990 included 500 corps members placed in only six locations across the United States. Since then, more than 10,000 college graduates have been recruited to participate in the program.
In 2003, 3,200 new teachers entered classrooms to assist kindergarten through 12th grade students.
“The applicants get to choose their location with a 99 percent chance of getting their first pick,” Bennett said. “It depends on need of the location, requirements of the location and what the person wants to do. It also depends on their study and qualifications and where they are needed, so we try to even things out by that.”
Candidates for the program are recent college graduates with a range of academic majors and goals for the future. The admission process is selective, with focus on “records of achievement, leadership qualities, and a commitment to expanding opportunity for children in low-income areas,” according to the TFA Web Site.
“These are under-funded schools that need more people, especially in rural areas,” Bennett said. “They need teachers and the students need jobs. Students fresh out of college are ready to get out and take on the world. They often have know-how business savvy experience working with administrations, are student leaders and have access to working around different economic pressures.”
Out of the 16,000 students who applied for positions in 2003, only 3,200 were accepted. Chosen members then undergo an intensive training program to prepare them for instruction. While these students are well versed in their areas of study, most need additional instruction on how to conduct lessons and maintain a classroom environment conducive to learning.
The training courses are coupled with student teaching to give the corps actual experience. The TFA members are then placed in the classroom where they will spend two years teaching students in low-income communities.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Bennett. “It gives students the chance to have a job they love and make a difference instead of jumping into the work force where you often forget that sort of thing. You spend two years and make an immediate impact that you can expand into whatever you want to do.”
Teach for America applications are due Feb. 12. Those Temple students interested in the program can find more information or apply online at www.teachforamerica.org.
Nadia Stadnycki can be reached at email@example.com