Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why I Teach for America

I wanted to begin this journey with an explanation of how I found myself in what has been termed "the most southern place on earth." Upon graduation from Brigham Young University, the only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to be involved in something that helped others. My experiences touring with the Young Ambassadors, a performing/service group from BYU, taught me that the only time I was truly happy, was when I was in the service of others. I cannot even put into words the feeling of cradling a small orphan in South Korea and singing lullabies from my childhood quietly in his ear. It was during this moment that I knew the only possible course for my life was to find a path in which I could be of service to others. I had this dream of being the next Mother Theresa, or Father Theresa for all intents and purposes, and providing aid to the underprivileged masses of some exotic country. I do have to say that I have stumbled across a pretty exotic culture here in Mississippi, so maybe my dream will materialize after all. During my undergrad I focused on nutritional sciences because I realized that one of the ways I could have the greatest impact on others would be to become a doctor. I also secretly questioned as to whether becoming a teacher would allow me to have an even greater impact, but was too far into my major to change my course of study. It was ultimately my love for sociology that led me to the staggering truths about the achievement gap, and helped me to find something I could do about it.

For those of you not familiar with the achievement gap, here are a few statistics from the NEA to clue you in:

"By age three, children of professionals have vocabularies that are nearly 50 percent greater than those of working class children, and twice as large as those of children whose families are on welfare.

  • By the end of fourth grade, African American, Latino, and poor students of all races are two years behind behind their wealthier, predominantly white peers in reading and math. By eighth grade, they have slipped three years behind, and by twelfth grade, four years behind.

  • By the end of high school, black and Hispanic students' reading and mathematics skills are roughly the same as those of white students in the eighth grade

  • African American students are three times more likely than white students to be placed in special education programs, and are half as likely to be in gifted programs in elementary and secondary schools.

  • Black students are only about half as likely (and Hispanics about one-third as likely) as white students to earn a bachelor's degree by age 29."

  • It is clear that educational inequality is one of the greatest injustices we face as a nation. Teach for America is an organization that is working tirelessly to increase the quality of education in rural and inner city neighborhoods across the U.S. They do this by recruiting recent college graduates who are inspired by the injustices they see in society, and teaching them to utilize this passion to make up for their inexperience as teachers. I applied to Teach for America on a whim because I believed in what they stood for, and because the application was surprisingly similar to the medical school applications I had already completed. However, it was not until my final interview that I was sure this was the place that would allow me to make the most impact on others. By the end of the interview, the interviewer and I sat silently staring at one another wiping away tears. Now in most circumstances I would advise against this hiring tactic, but it was so clear that this experience could prove to be one of the most empowering moments of my life. I cannot even put into words how frightening and incredible it was to finally find my place after searching for so long. Now I need to point out that my interviewer was not crying because I did such a poor job interviewing, but because the emotion was overwhelming as she tried to portray her experience teaching the children on the West Shore of Hawaii. As I listened to her story and learned of the struggles the Mississippi Delta was facing, I felt immediately that there was only 1 place I could go. Therefore, It came as little surprise when I received the email 2 weeks later informing me that I would be teaching high school biology in the Mississippi Delta.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A plea

Well here it goes. There is so much pent up emotion and so many thoughts in my head that I am not quite sure where to start. I guess I'll start with a plea. Make no mistake about it that this is a desperate attempt, even a last resort to find some help. I thought that I could do this on my own, that once I made it out here I could make a difference. But the realization came on all too quickly that this problem is much bigger than me, much greater than the impact one "bright eyed boy, with a with an idealistic dream" could ever hope to make. It is hard for me to ask for help, and even harder to post some of the events that have transpired. But I do know that if you're reading this you have the ability to help change the course of these young people. People who have never felt opportunity shine on them merely because of where they were born. Children who are involved in an educational program that is failing them, because how can they be expected to learn about electrons when many of them are not sure how they will eat tonight? I am doing this for Annelle, who had to drop out to take care of her grandmother. A young girl with all of the hope in the world and the dream that "one day she could take her mother to Paris." She told me that her goal in life was to become a criminal investigator. Sadly, this is just one more dream she may have to tuck neatly away, because opportunity seems to be in short supply in this place. I am doing this for Sherman, LeMarcus, and Tierra who have so much potential, but may never have the opportunity to reach it. For all of the students who told me on my first day that their only goal was to get out of this place. I promised you that I would help you find a way, but I've realized I can't keep that promise on my own. Last of all, I am doing this because I believe in these students and that the world needs to hear their stories. They are capable of so much more than what they have been handed, and imagine the loss if one of these students was destined to become the doctor to cure cancer or the next black president? What if for once, when it really counted, they were able to succeed instead of being shown that they will never beat the odds? So there's my plea, which marks the beginning of this journey.