Temple graduates commit to service and teaching programs

Seniors joined the Peace Corps and Teach for America to help communities across the country and abroad.

Sara Webber, a senior early childhood education major, will head to New Orleans, Louisiana after graduation through Teach For America. | MADISON KARAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Ellie Dittes was a toddler, she traveled to refugee camps in Albania with her parents. 

They worked for the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid during the civil conflict in Kosovo, a self-declared independent country in southeastern Europe, in the late 1990s. About 455,000 refugees fled to Albania, which borders Kosovo, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Seeing all of the good that they were able to do, it did really push me to want to try and do something like that,” said Dittes, a senior economics major. “My parents have been my example, what pushed me to look for an opportunity to serve others.” 

After graduating, Dittes and several other Temple University seniors will join the Peace Corps, a federal government volunteer program, and Teach For America, a national organization promoting educational equity. For low wages, students in the competitive programs will work in the United States and abroad to serve some of the most vulnerable populations.

Dittes will begin her 27-month Peace Corps service on May 24 in Kosovo. As a community organizational development volunteer, she’ll increase women and youth’s employability and community engagement. She will receive language, cultural and on-the-job training before being partnered with a local non-government community organization or government organization.

Dittes is excited to meet her host family, community members and the other program volunteers, she said. She added that she is most excited to focus on building relationships in the community to understand how she can best help them.

“I think for me it’s going to start at like the relational level,” she said. “So just like building these really strong relationships with people in my community and learning more about them and learning more about their struggles or what exactly their needs are. I think that that’s kind of one of the most important first parts, just spending a lot of time listening and seeing what people actually need.” 

While Dittes decided to go abroad, senior history major Patrick O’Malley wanted to stay in the United States. He aspired to be a teacher his whole life and applied to Teach For America. There were five application rounds for the 2019 program, which runs from September through March.

Teach for America volunteers commit to two years in the position, and Peace Corps volunteers commit to three months of training and two years of service in their assigned locations. 

The organization offered O’Malley a paid position as an elementary diverse learning teacher in the Chicago Public Schools district for two years. He’ll leave on June 15 to start training, which involves teaching special education in an underserved school.

O’Malley, whose brother has autism, describes himself as a disability awareness advocate.

“This kind of ties in with exactly what I want to do in my career,” O’Malley said. “I think that this will just give me a new opportunity to do that, in kind of a new light.”

O’Malley wants to help every child receive a valuable education, he added. He will earn his master’s in education at Relay Graduate School of Education in Chicago through a joint program with Teach for America. 

James Earl Davis, a higher education professor and the Bernard C. Watson Endowed Chair in Urban Education, said service experiences like the Peace Corps can help students build a “global identity” they can utilize in their careers. 

“It gives you a sense of your broader contribution to humanity,” Earl said. “That particularly has a transformative experience, particularly to college graduates.” 

Sara Webber’s motivation to join Teach For America stemmed from being a student teacher at John Moffet Elementary School in South Kensington in Spring 2019. 

The senior early childhood education major said the school didn’t have many resources and some teachers didn’t show a passion for working with students.

Webber will leave on May 28 to start her training as an elementary educator in the Orleans Parish School Board district in New Orleans, Louisiana. While Webber and her family didn’t expect she’d be placed in Louisiana, Webber just wanted to be assigned to work with elementary school kids.

“I’m really excited to be given my own classroom and being able to have the freedom to hopefully enact that change in their school just starting with one class,” she said. 

Webber wants to make the students feel accepted and teach them they can achieve their goals, no matter the circumstances, she said. Webber also wants to help students learn about opportunities for their futures, like college. 

After Teach For America, O’Malley wants to continue working in the Chicago Public Schools district, he said.

“It’ll be a really great opportunity for me to just witness new lives in a new city,” O’Malley said. “Seeing not only how I can make an impact on them, but how they will make an impact on me and what I want to do in my career.” 

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