Whitworth alumni teach to fight educational inequality

Whitworth’s motto is an Education of Mind and Heart. Teach for America is a program similarly focused on reaching students on a more holistic level, regardless of their background. Nov. 2 marks the application deadline for Teach for America. This year that due date has been extended to Nov. 5 as a result of the damages on the east coast caused by hurricane Sandy.

The organization, founded in 1990, selects and trains candidates to work in high-need schools. Corps members are required to fulfill a two-year teaching commitment in their placement school.

“Teach for America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty,” said Justin Yan, Northwest Director of Recruitment.

According to the Teach for America website, the organization began as the undergraduate thesis of Princeton University alumna, Wendy Kopp. The first charter consisted of 500 recent college graduates on a mission to fight educational inequity.

“Today more than 10,000 corps members are teaching in 46 urban and rural regions across the country, while nearly 28,000 alumni are working across sectors to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education,” said Yan.

Since 1990, at least 40 Whitworth alumni have participated in this program.

“In the past two years, 12 Whitworth grads have joined Teach For America and are working as corps members and alumni to ensure that every student, regardless of their zip code or family income, have access to an excellent education,” said Yan.

2012 Whitworth graduate and theology major, Travis Walker, is currently working for Teach for America in Alamo, Texas. Walker first heard of the organization through word of mouth. Previously, he had no intention of teaching. Walker admits that he did not feel prepared to teach, even following the training program, although Walker said most first year teachers don’t.

Additionally, the students that attend the schools partnering with the Teach for America program are not your average students. These are high-needs school reaching students dealing with various factors of educational inequity.

“Students don’t show up to learn, they show up because they have to,” Walker said.

Walker said that because he works in a charter school that already has so much oversight, Teach for America can feel like more of a burden than a supporting resource.

“It’s not so much about the content, the material. It’s about finding creative ways to teach, to entice students,” Walker said. “It’s really a matter of motivation and presentation.”

2012 Whitworth graduate and biology major, Delsey Olds, is currently working for Teach for America in Goodyear, AZ. Like Walker, Olds heard about Teach for America through word of mouth, did not plan on a career in education and did not initially feel prepared.

“Honestly, I felt extremely unprepared to enter the classroom. I relied a lot on my adaptability and flexibility. So much of teaching is just experience; it is hard to be truly prepared for teaching without just jumping in and trying it and gaining that experience one day at a time,” said Olds.

Olds said Teach for America has been both extremely challenging and insightful, describing the program as one of very high expectations.

“There have been many highs and lows to being a teacher so far. There have been some experiences that have been extremely difficult and hard to battle through, but there have also been some very rewarding and wonderful experiences,” said Olds.

Senior Macy Olivas  is working for the second year with Teach For America's Northwest team as Whitworth’s Campus Campaign Coordinator.

“Through my work with Teach For America I hope to inform students about the educational inequality that exists in our country and what they can tangibly do to work towards helping students who are specifically growing up in impoverished neighborhoods,” said Olivas.

Olivas encourages students with leadership experience and a desire to see change in our current public education system and in our country to consider applying for Teach for America.

The initial application process includes submission of personal information, academic history and leadership experience along with a resume and letter of intent.

The next application deadlines are Jan. 11, 2013 and Feb. 15, 2013.

Laryssa Lynch Staff Writer

Contact Laryssa Lynch at laryssalynch15@my.whitworth.edu