By Lauren Rothering
Upon graduation, many Saint Mary’s University students are faced with a difficult decision: What do I do next? A program called Teach for America offers college graduates a unique opportunity far from the normalcy of entering the work force.
According to Katie Bolin, a recruiting associate for the program, Teach For America is “an AmeriCorps program that seeks recent college graduates to fight our nation’s greatest injustice – the achievement gap – by committing to teach for two years in some of the nation’s most under-resourced school districts.” The “achievement gap” refers to the educational inequality that exists in school districts, inequality that is compounded by lack of materials, proper educational resources, and administrative support, said Bolin. The goal of Teach for America is to provide those districts most affected with highly trained teachers to allow children living in low-income communities to take advantage of educational opportunities of which they have previously been deprived.
Melissa Cole, graduate of the College of Saint Benedict and current Teach for America participant, feels that one of the biggest benefits of the program is being able to give these children a new sense of hope despite such educational adversity. “At times we are holding on by strings,” said Cole, “and it is this sense of possibility that pulls us through.”
Students of all majors and academic disciplines are encouraged to apply for the program, not only those whom majored in education. Students are accepted based on track records of academic achievement, leadership skills and organizational ability. Additionally, they must undergo a rigorous training program prior to employment. Once these prerequisites are met, corps members are placed into one of 26 urban and rural teaching locations, including Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, Miami and Los Angeles.
Upon completion of two years service, corps members go on to excel in many disciplines, including, according to Bolin, “business, law, medicine, journalism, and, obviously, education” as possible avenues. One aspect that seems universal, though, is the sense of great reward that comes from such sacrifices. “If you really want to challenge yourself, your abilities, push yourself to your depths and fight social inequality,” said Cole, “then Teach for America is a great opportunity.”