Antionette Goodwyn is a freshman at Pride High School in Gaston, N.C. The school is a product of the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, and is run by Teach For America alumni and employs mainly graduates of the program.
Goodwyn tried to be polite as she compared her grade-school experience with KIPP.
“Well, not to talk about other schools, but at my last school you had, like, maybe one teacher out of the bunch that cared,” she said.
But now, Goodwyn said, many teachers are available and trying to “set you up for success.”
Teach For America, whose graduates are known as the Corps, is a national nonprofit organization that enlists recent college graduates to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools in an attempt to eliminate educational inequality in the United States.
Recruitment began at the University in 2002 and the chapter has since grown to become one of the largest recruiting locations in the Midwest.
The second of four deadlines this year for student applications is Sunday, Nov. 5.
The application process is selective and requires applicants to meet a series of standards, which include attaining a minimum 2.5 grade point average, possessing leadership qualities and earning a bachelor’s degree next June. Applicants also go through an interview process after applying.
KIPP teacher Sarah Tuttle graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in political science last spring.
She said she became interested in the program her sophomore year while working for AmeriCorps and she worked as a campus campaign manager for Teach for America her senior year.
Tuttle began her training this summer during the organization’s intensive five-week program, where members learn curriculum tactics and other classroom skills.
She now teaches social justice at the KIPP school in Gaston.
This, like many of the schools that Corps members teach in, has students who meet the state’s qualifications of low income.
“I wanted to go to New York, but I’m here and I love it,” Tuttle said.
Little sleep, extremely long hours and an uphill challenge were things Tuttle had expected, but she said, “Nothing can prepare you for the realities that you’ll face in the classroom, in terms of the achievement gap being right there in front of you.
“I know all my students’ parents. I know where they live. I can drive them home after school. I have the opportunity to see students’ parents at church or at basketball games or at Wal-Mart – everybody’s at Wal-Mart all the time.”
Tuttle has been teaching in the Corps for four months and said her students put in more effort than those she tutored in Twin Cities suburbs.
“They work so much harder because they know what they’re up against and they know that they’re making their life better,” she said.
The number of University student application submissions for Teach For America has increased 125 percent since the 2002-2003 school year, when Corps recruitment became visibly present on campus.
In 2005-2006, 126 University students applied for the Corps, but only 20 percent were accepted into the program.
Most University applicants are social science or government and public policy majors and have an average GPA of more than 3.5.
Jason Kloth, senior recruitment director for the Corps and a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate, taught from 2003 to 2005 in the rural Rio Grande Valley town of Edcouch, Texas.
He said it was a challenge to adjust to a new place, new people and a new job, but he soon became a member of community in Edcouch and a neighboring town served by the school, Elsa, attending weddings, quinceañeras and barbecues.
Many of Kloth’s sixth-graders, most of whom were first- or second-generation immigrants, grew up in areas that lacked modern conveniences like running water, gas and electricity.
“That plays itself out in our classrooms on a day to day basis,” Kloth said. “When you don’t have access to those things, it has a huge impact on your ability to learn.”
Education is powerful because it makes closing the gap between low income and higher income possible, he said.
“It literally feeds all of the other social ills and problems that exist in our country,” Kloth said. “That’s why, for long-term change, education is where we need to be exerting more effort.”
During his tenure, Kloth said, he saw his students start out below state expectations and exceed them later on in the school year.
He said he plans to stay involved in the Corps, either in law or in business.
“When I look at the route I am going to take, it will always be in some way, shape or form with a focus on improving the quality of life of others,” he said.