Abington graduate begins mission to educate disadvantaged children

If the employment climate for recent college graduates looms as a dark cloud, then the story of Caterina Moreira may just be its silver lining.

Caterina Moreira graduated from Penn State Abington on May 14, 2012. Along with her full health benefits, she will earn between $30,000 and $50,000 this year. She also will be eligible for up to $10,000 to repay her student loans or to finance graduate school.

Moreira is one of about 70 new Penn State University alumni who signed on with Teach for America (TFA). The nonprofit puts recent college graduates to work educating public school students in low-income areas nationwide. In return for a two-year commitment, they earn the same salary and benefits as full-time teachers in those districts.

But for Moreira, who earned her degree in corporate communication, TFA is much more than just a steady paycheck.

"Teach for America has a mission that really hit home for me,” she said. "Providing every child an excellent education, regardless of their background or socioeconomic class, is what I signed up to do. I look forward to giving back and showing our children that college is a goal that is attainable and realistic."

Moreira, a former Student Government Association president and member of the Abington THON committee, said she discovered Teach for America during her job search and was instantly hooked. She began the application process soon after.

"I hope to be the teacher who makes students realize that anything they want is at their fingertips,” she said. “These two years will be an eye-opener for me, and I look forward to the challenge."

Moreira, who will be teaching fourth grade in Dallas, Texas, said she's both nervous and excited.

"There are many people putting a lot of trust in me and my ability to educate students," she said. "I'm excited to finally be in the classroom after weeks of training.”

According to TFA, 9-year-olds in low-income areas are three grade levels behind their peers from high-income communities. While half won't graduate from high school, those who do will have reading and math skills at the level of eighth graders in high-income communities. TFA’s goal is to mitigate the discrepancy by hiring promising college graduates.

Jeremy Corbett, TFA director of recruitment in Pennsylvania and Delaware, said Penn Staters who worked for the corps in the past have moved on to leadership positions in for-profit and nonprofit businesses.

“Teach for America alumni can be found across the country in business, law, medicine, educational leadership, public policy and the arts," he said. “Penn State students tend to be very well-suited for Teach for America. This year we had a record number of students joining the corps from Penn State and hope to continue this tradition.”

Corbett encourages all students to consider TFA. For more information, visit www.teachforamerica.org.