College sends 15 grads to TFA
Over the summer, the non-profit educational organization Teach For America (TFA) recognized the College as a top contributor to its program for the second year in a row. Surpassing last year’s ninth place ranking, the College ties at eighth among the nation’s small schools with less than 3,000 students.
Fifteen students from the class of 2011 are currently participating in TFA, following a trend of significant student involvement on the Hill that dates back to 2008, when TFA accepted eight students.
Founded in 1989 by a Princeton senior in the hopes of solving the educational gap in the U.S., TFA recruits college graduates, as well as graduate students, for a two-year teaching program that focuses on schools with significantly poor student performance. New England Regional Director Abbey Hutchins said, “Its mission is to look for people with phenomenal success and organization capabilities and teach them to be educational leaders.”
Teach For America has a fairly rigorous application process. It begins with an online application with a rolling deadline. The application consists of a one-page résumé, and the applicant must also complete a personal statement explaining his or her interest in TFA. Applicants whom TFA accepts after this round must then complete a phone interview with recruiters. The final stage is an in-person interview at a TFA site. The entire process takes about a semester to complete. “In 2011 nearly 14 percent of Colby’s graduating seniors applied to Teach For America,” as stated in a press release on the College website. Additionally, “throughout Teach For America’s 20-year history, more than 120 Colby alumni have taught as corps members.”
Jess Acosta ’11 is one of the 15 seniors from the Hill participating in TFA. Recruited as a junior, Acosta said that she was motivated to join due to her own experiences at the College. “I had no intention of getting into education,” Acosta said, “but seeing how my teachers believed in me and were so invested in me, I decided I had a sort of obligation to give back somehow.” Acosta, who now teaches third grade in New Rhodes, La., went through specialized education training in August. She took courses through TFA that specifically dealt with educating elementary school students, such as a course solely designed to learn to teach literacy. “The academic ability in some of these kids is so low,” she said. “I’m teaching kids who are eight to 11 years old, and they’re reading at a kindergarten level. They’ve never really had any sort of solid education before.”
The education situation is not as bleak as it seems, however, and that’s in part due to TFA. Over the past 10 years that TFA teachers have been working in New Orleans, there has been a 23 percent increase in eighth grade standardized test proficiency. Hutchins attributes the success of the organization to the devotion of its members. “There really is no magic way to fix these problems,” she said. “What it comes down to is just a lot of dedication and focus, and that’s what the leaders of TFA strive for.”
Hutchins believes that there are certain factors that have placed the College so high up in TFA’s rankings these past few years. “A lot of the courses offered at Colby involve social justice in some form,” she said. “Students are taught through a lens that inspires a sense of responsibility and obligation to give back what they have been so fortunately given.” She also believes that word of mouth stimulates more student involvement. “Colby is a small school,” she said. “The more people who join it, the more people know about it. It’s great for growing small programs like this.”