In August, 45 members of U.Va.’s Class of 2013 headed back to school – elementary, middle and high school, that is. They are part of the new crop of Teach for America corps members, and U.Va.’s enlistees place the University, once again, among the organization’s top contributors from schools with 10,000 or more undergraduates.
With more than 800 colleges and universities contributing to the incoming corps and a 12 percent acceptance rate in previous years, there is clear-cut competition to be accepted into the program. Nine percent of U.Va.’s 2013 graduates applied to the program, according to Michael Bock, the University’s campus campaign coordinator.
Throughout Teach For America’s 23-year history, 524 U.Va. alumni have taught as corps members, said Shawnee Cohn, manager of regional communications.
Bock attributes graduates’ interest in Teach for America to the reputation it has developed around Grounds as “one of the most challenging and rewarding post-undergraduate career choices” for students “eager to use the insight they are developing about injustice to take on leadership roles in addressing the achievement gap in communities throughout the United States.”
This year’s participants will be among 11,000 corps members who vary in age, majors, interest and backgrounds, yet share characteristics such as “leadership ability, superior interpersonal skills and perseverance in the face of challenges,” according to Teach for America’s website.
Corps members are assigned to teach in one of 48 urban and rural regions across the country, where they are paid between $25,000 and $51,000 and given appropriate compensation for relocation as well as assistance with student loans and opportunities to gain additional teaching certification.
U.Va. graduate Hal Turner, who taught for Teach for America at KIPP Central City Academy in New Orleans, is both a testament to the rewarding experiences that the organization provides and an ambassador for his alma mater. “My classroom was an ode to the University in every way you can imagine. My students were addressed as ‘the Cavaliers’ and my entire room was covered with orange-and-blue U.Va. paraphernalia,” Turner said.
Turner even created a mascot to motivate students through the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, also known as the “LEAP test.” He dressed as “LEAP Man” and filmed the mascot “doing ridiculous things around New Orleans, such as skydiving and riding a motorcycle,” which he admits to crashing. According to Turner, the “students came to love LEAP Man and gained new excitement when approaching the end-of-year testing.”
Turner said that these experiences are not limited to the classroom. “Outside of the classroom, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to coach boy’s lacrosse in the inner city and help develop other lacrosse programs throughout New Orleans,” he said.
Nor does the experience stop when the two-year teaching experience is over. “Even after being away from New Orleans for three years, I still talk with several of my students and teachers on a weekly basis and visit whenever I have the chance,” he said.
’Hoos Teach for America, an official student group, connects U.Va. students to what it calls “the Civil Rights Movement of the young generation,” according to its Facebook page. The rights at stake? “Ensuring all students have access to an excellent education,” the page says.
Bock notes that while the goal on Grounds is to raise awareness “about the achievement gap in American schools,” there is still a visible achievement gap locally. Charlottesville’s public schools struggle with high school graduation rates around 55 percent, compared to around 85 percent in Albemarle County schools. With staggering differences like these, it is clear that Teach for America could find ample room for growth in Virginia.
“Last spring, the Virginia legislature passed the measures necessary to allow Teach For America to operate in the state,” Bock said.
As ’Hoos Teach for America gears up for this year’s recruitment season, Turner tells students the “possibilities really are limitless when it comes to the ways in which you can affect positive change.”
The upcoming deadlines for this year’s application process are Oct. 25, Jan. 24 and Feb. 20.