From Pupils To Teachers

Elise Foley and Elise Foley

By Elise FoleyThe Daily Northwestern

The president and founder of Teach for America, one of the nation’s foremost post-graduation programs, encouraged about 60 students Thursday to get involved in “our country’s most pressing domestic issue” – education.

The organization is a national teacher corps that places recent college graduates in underfunded schools, usually in poor areas.

Participants teach for two years, which the organization hopes will give them the background to help to solve the problems with America’s public schools system.

John White, the organization’s Chicago executive director, and Wendy Kopp, its president and founder, spoke to seniors interested in the Teach for America program about these problems.

“There are 13 million people growing up in poverty,” Kopp said. “Ultimately, as a society we have to ask ourselves what we have to do to make this truly a land of opportunity.”

Kopp created Teach for America after her senior year of college in 1989 after developing the idea while writing her senior thesis. Kopp found support for her cause, but people questioned whether students would commit to the program.

“People said college students would never do it,” Kopp said. “It became my mission to prove them wrong. Within four months, 2,500 graduating seniors had applied.”

The organization has grown since, and large numbers of Northwestern students have accepted the challenge.

Tiffany Berry, a 2003 Northwestern alumna, spoke about working in the Chicago public school system for Teach for America and her experiences as a student in an area where resources were few and far between. She was encouraged to attend college by teachers, and she wanted to give others the same opportunity.

“I know what it feels like to be at the bottom of the class,” Berry said. “I know what it feels like to have a teacher that encourages you to go on. Because of teachers, I’m here today.”

Berry joined Teach for America after her senior year at Northwestern so she could make a direct impact on students, she said. She has continued to work for the Chicago Public Schools.

Attendees had been invited by Teach for America’s recruitment team or by friends. Josh Anderson, Teach for America’s recruitment director for the Midwest, said students were targeted for their leadership qualities.

“We’re looking to reach out to top leaders on campus, people with strong commitment,” Anderson said.

Katie Gasienica, a SESP senior, applied to the Teach for America program and is waiting to receive an interview. She said she has wanted to participate in Teach for America since freshman year.

“I’ve always had an incredible passion for teaching,” Gasienica said. “Everything I’ve done has been social justice-driven.”

Others in attendance, such as Medill senior Tasneem Chithiwala, already have been accepted into the program. Chithiwala will teach special education in Los Angeles next year.

“It all just fell into place,” Chithiwala said. “It’s going to be so challenging, but when we get in there and can make a difference, it will be worth it.”

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]