As many college seniors prepare for further schooling or start looking for post-grad jobs, some students are taking a different approach to their post-graduation plans. Teach For America (TFA), is a nonprofit organization committed to improving the access of quality education in the United States.
Those who choose to enter the Corps will help close the opportunity gap impacting underprivileged communities by receiving their teaching certificate and teaching K-12 students. VALLEY caught up with two students who were accepted into the 2020 Corps to hear about their experiences so far.
“I first heard about TFA from a Gamma Sigma Sigma chapter meeting,” says Angie Wood, a global and international studies graduate. “An alumni had come to speak about it but I wasn’t really interested in it at first. Then, my friend Sophie got accepted and started telling me about it, so I researched it on my own and applied.”
Wood focused on health and the environment during her time as an undergraduate before graduating in December 2019. Her involvement with Penn State Alternative Breaks motivated her to see what more she could do to help communities in need.
Sophie Wagner, a senior studying biology with a minor in psychology, talked about the unique opportunity of the program.
“Hearing people’s stories about the impact they made on the children really drove me to do it,” says Wagner. “Specifically in Pueblo, Colorado, the TFA program helped to reestablish schools that were in danger of closing within the past five years. Being able to provide all students with opportunities to grow and reducing inequity in our educational institutions is incredibly important to me, and this program does an amazing job at tackling that.”
The inequality facing these communities is drastic, with effects that can last a lifetime. According to the TFA website, students from low-income families dropped out of high school at twice the rate of higher-income families in 2017. Education is just a fraction of the picture, with many of these communities also facing higher rates of poverty, hunger and discrimination. TFA volunteers try to help improve the school systems, which can benefit some of the other issues these students are facing.
“Once I realized that education inequity was a really pressing topic in society, there was no turning back,” says Wood. “I felt like this was something I had to do.”
For Wood, her placement in Alabama is what she is most looking forward to.
“I think I’m most excited to travel to the south and involve myself in a difficult culture,” says Wood. “I’d be naive to say it won’t be challenging — it will — but I think the challenge itself also excites me.”
Wagner is most looking forward to her opportunity to learn about different communities and cultures at her placement in the southwest. To be eligible for TFA, anyone with a four year degree is eligible — no matter your major.
“My advice would be to reach out to teachers that are currently in the Corps or were recently accepted,” says Wagner. “They know more of the ins and outs of the application process. Also, reach out to a recruiter, because a recruiter can answer just about any questions you may have. It’s not an easy program and takes a lot of dedication and hard work, but the difference that you can make in the lives of the students you teach and their communities is incredibly rewarding.”
For more information on eligibility requirements, or to donate to Teach For America, check out their website.