UNVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State just beat its own record. With at least 70 students signed up to Teach for America this year (the organization will have the final numbers by fall), Penn Staters are showing their commitment to expand educational opportunities for elementary and secondary school students in low-income areas.
"Teach for America has a mission that really hit home for me,” Caterina Moreira, a Penn State Abington class of 2012 graduate from Philadelphia, said. "Providing every child an excellent education, regardless of their background or socioeconomic class, is exactly what I signed up to do. I look forward to giving back to our country and showing our children that college is a goal that is attainable and realistic."
According to Jeremy Corbett, director of recruitment in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Teach for America is a national nonprofit organization that seeks out top college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools. This will help them become lifelong leaders while making an effort to expand educational opportunity for low-income areas.
"Penn State students tend to be very well-suited for Teach for America, and many alumni have gone on to join the corps in the past," said Corbett. "This year we had a record number of students joining the corps from Penn State and hope to continue this tradition into 2013. Alumni of Teach for America can be found across the country in business, law, medicine, educational leadership, public policy and the arts."
Moreira, a corporate communications major with minors in business and communications arts and sciences, said she was researching nonprofit organizations to work for after graduation and the Teach for America site showed up in her search. She said when she began reading about it she was instantly hooked and began the application process soon after.
"I hope to make an impact on my students' lives," she said. "I hope to be the teacher that makes students realize that anything they want is right at their fingertips. I think I'll learn what my students are going through and how difficult receiving an education can be while taking care of personal problems." She explained that many of her students come from single-parent homes, where the parent has to work two jobs to keep his or her children fed. "Other students may not even have a home," she added. "These two years will be an eye-opener for me, and I look forward to the challenges ahead."
According to Teach for America, in the U.S. today, 9-year-olds in low-income communities are already three grade levels behind their peers in high-income communities. Half of them won't graduate from high school and those who do will read and have math skills, on average, at the level of eighth graders in high-income communities. Teach for America looks for promising future leaders to help mitigate this discrepancy. The organization recruits top college graduates of all academic majors that showed high achievement and leadership in college, to expand learning opportunities to children in low-income areas.
"College seniors should consider Teach for America because it’s a chance for them to fight for equity in education," Corbett said. "Equal rights is something we stand for as Americans, yet we fall short in our impoverished areas around the country. Your education has a direct connection to your future opportunities, and students in low-income areas are unfortunately not given an equal chance."
Corbett said once chosen, Teach for America members will be assigned to over 45 placement sites across the country in both rural and urban areas. Moreira, who will be teaching fourth grade in Dallas, said she's both nervous and excited for the journey.
"I'm nervous because I did not get my degree in education, and 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 preparation and getting to know all of my students. I'm teaching eight fourth grade boys, so I truly hope I can keep them focused and motivated." She added that she was surprised at how dedicated she felt to her students' success after just a short time working with them as a Teach for America member.
Corbett said that while Teach for America is not for everyone, he does hope all students research the organization. They're looking for campus leaders -- anyone that worked part-time to help pay for college or held leadership positions in student organizations. He said Teach for America has teachers from Penn State student organizations including Latino Caucus, NAACP, THON, UPUA, Athletics, National Pan-Hellenic Council, World in Conversation Project, Lion Ambassadors, Daily Collegian, Onward State, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and many more.
For more information on Teach for America, visit http://www.teachforamerica.org.