Eight Whitworth seniors have been selected to join the Teach For America corps with the intention to help change inequality in the current education system. Seniors Monica Calderon, Alison Gonzalez, Naticcia Melendez, Delsey Olds, Benjameen Quarless, Joshua Vance, Travis Walker and Patrick Yoho are now a part of the Teach For America corps.
Teach For America is a two-year post-graduate service opportunity in which corps members are placed in schools across the country to teach, specifically schools that are low-performing and low-income.
“All kids — no matter where they live, how much money their parents make or what their skin color is — deserve access to a great education,” according to the Teach For America website. “Teach For America’s mission is to build the movement to eliminate educational inequity by developing such leaders.”
Macy Olivas is the Teach For America campus campaign coordinator and president of the Students for Education Reform club.
“It’s kind of like AmeriCorp, kind of like some other post-graduate opportunities, except that high-performing, high-achieving undergraduate leaders get the chance to close our education achievement gap,” Olivas said. “Teach for America specifically focuses on getting these young rock stars to become teachers in the classroom.”
Vance was compelled to apply by urgency of education reform.
“There was a sign in Weyerhauser that said ‘grad school can wait, a child’s education can’t,’” Vance said. “Every time I saw that, it just compelled me and kind of hit a nerve. I realized that was the direction I was called to go in.”
Walker, a theology major, was applying to seminaries while pursuing Teach For America, but as the process continued, he discovered his passion for education reform.
“I was actually looking at graduate schools in theology, various seminaries,” Walker said. “The farther I got along in the process the more I realized my passion for educational opportunity and how in my mind that is the biggest root of poverty in America. I think we as the church have to address this situation in other ways than we have been doing.”
The Whitworth students have been placed all over the United States, including Texas, New Mexico and the Mississippi Delta.
Walker was placed in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and he said he is looking forward to the difference in comparison to Spokane.
“I am really excited; it’s going to be very different culturally from Spokane,” Walker said. “I was born in Spokane and lived here my entire life, never lived anywhere else. It’s going to be a different experience, now I am ready for it because I am kind of tired of this environment. I think the culture will be great. Obviously there are a lot of Spanish-speaking immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley, so it will be different as far as the culture and what people like to do and how they live. I am looking forward to that.”
Melendez said she is looking forward to using her Spanish language skills in New Mexico. She has studied abroad in South Korea, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Ireland.
“New Mexico was in my top five preferences,” Melendez said. “I was pleased to know that I got one of my top five. I wanted to be in a Latino community to utilize my Spanish a little more and learn more Spanish. I wanted to go somewhere different. I was really excited to see that I was placed in New Mexico. It’s really close to the border of Mexico so that has, of course, a lot of Hispanics living down there.”
Patrick Yoho said he recognizes the different dynamic between schools. In his assigned region, the Mississippi Delta, school sizes are smaller, meaning he will need to teach a wider range of subjects.
“I was placed to do secondary physics, so I could be anywhere between seventh and 12th. I assume high school because of the specific physics designation. I will probably be teaching something else too; schools down there are 450 to 500 kids so there is no way you can get a full teaching schedule with just physics,” Yoho said.
Olivas said she encouraged students interested in Teach For America to research the organization through its website and evaluate its motive.
“I say first step is to look on the Teach For America website, there are tons of videos. Really think about, ‘Can I see myself as a teacher? Is education reform something I am passionate about?’” Olivas said. Melendez said she agreed with Olivas. She started the application process by researching more about Teach For America.
“I did a lot of research on the Teach for America website,” Melendez said. “I really enjoyed seeing their vision and passion for equality in the education system. Also I kind of wanted to work with at-risk youth in the first place, and so I figured this would be a good opportunity to do so. Also because I am senior and it doesn’t do any harm to apply to as many things as possible.”
Story by Caitlyn Starkey Staff Writer
Contact Caitlyn Starkey at firstname.lastname@example.org.