About 25 students forwent the frenzy of the women’s soccer game on Thursday, September 13, to attend an informational meeting with more humanitarian goals in mind. They were there to learn about Teach for America (TFA), a non-profit organization that seeks to, in its words, “eliminate educational inequity,” something they see as “our nation’s greatest injustice.”
The organization selects recent college graduates, trains them over the summer and then sends them to teach elementary-level students in low-income communities across the country for two years. There are currently about 5,000 TFA teachers in areas ranging from New York City to South Dakota to Hawaii.
Kerri Keafer, a recruitment director for TFA, enumerated the statistics surrounding poverty in education.
“One in ten students from low-income families will graduate from college,” Keafer said. “Fourth graders in low-income families are three grade levels behind their high-income peers. Fifty percent of low-income students graduate from high school by age 18, and those who do perform, on average, at an eighth-grade level.”
After Keafer laid out the program history and the general process of applying to it, recent Colgate graduate Ian Maron-Kolitch ’07 described his TFA experience in New York City.
In one of the stories he shared, a third-grade student asked him what college was. He also recounted the time he taught a student the concept of a unit of measure over the telephone as the student looked through her refrigerator.
“It’s worth it when you have a third grader call you on the phone and understand something they didn’t understand before,” Maron-Kolitch said.
He also shared a fact he found shocking.
“Jail construction is determined by third-grade reading scores in certain states,” Maron-Kolitch said, referring to one of the guiding ideas behind TFA: that a quality education early on can shape a child’s future. He is confident that he has already had an impact on his students in the short time he has been with the program.
“I’m glad with the turnout,” TFA campus campaign director senior Jennifer Frey, who serves as an on-campus recruitment member, said. “The hope is that as the year goes on, more people will become interested. It’s a great opportunity and people should consider it because they can make a big difference.”
“This program is on campus for a very good reason,” Director of Career Services Ursula Olender, who sat in on the meeting, said. “It fulfills a need students have for exploring career options like teaching and education.”
But, as Keafer mentioned in her presentation, TFA members go on to every field imaginable.
She spoke of how suited she believes the program is for students who don’t really know where they want to go after graduating college, a situation that mirrors her own experience.
She also said that the skills one learns in the TFA program give one the ability to be great leaders.
“I’m very interested in doing the program,” senior Eileen Zenz, who attended the meeting, said. “Everyone seems to have a positive experience from it. I’m so glad there is a program that allows future leaders to help in this way. I have experience with underprivileged kids and this is exactly what they need.”