Psychology junior Allison Marek watched second-grade students struggle to identify the alphabet during a class exercise. Although she was shocked, Marek also knew that someone had to help these children, who have lived and been educated in an economically disadvantaged community all of their lives.
"These kids were in the second grade, and they could barely recognize letters," Marek said. "There was this sheet and they had to point to each letter and name it. The goal was for them to go through the sheet three times in a minute; it took them a minute to get through half of one sheet."
Now, Marek is the campus coordinator for Teach for America and is trying to raise awareness about the program that began in 1989.
"Our motto officially is that one day all children in this nation will be able to obtain an excellent education," Marek said. "A good teacher is a good leader; a good leader is a good teacher."
TFA is a two-year program available to college students of all majors. The programs – involving universities such as Yale, Harvard and UH – are scattered across America in some of the lowest-income neighborhoods.
Some TFA members have worked in the greater Houston areas, such as Alief, Sharpstown, Second, Third and Fifth Wards. Other areas include New Orleans and the Rio Grande Valley.
"I have heard of schools across the country that are in the poorest conditions, and its not right," education junior Ashley Clower said. "(TFA) is something I would consider."
Patricia Leon-Guerrero, the diversity recruitment director for TFA, has been working with the organization for about four years – ever since she read Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools.
"When I was reading it I thought that they were referencing a different country," she said. "The more I dove into the book, it was startling to realize that this was happening in our country."
TFA played a vital role after Hurricane Katrina because the teachers who were originally assigned to New Orleans helped the displaced students in Houston, Marek said.
"I started shortly after Hurricane Katrina. One of my friend’s mom is involved in the educational circuit in Houston and she said, ‘Hey, they recently established this school here in Houston for children who were displaced by the hurricane,’" Marek said.
TFA members can become certified teachers once they complete a five-week summer training. Marek said that members are paid the salary that their assigned district gives. The starting salary in Houston for teachers ranges from $ 38,500 – 41,500, according to TFA’s Web site.
Education juniors Rabiya Maredia and Alweena Pholasaniya have not heard about the program, but after hearing its mission, both expressed interest.
"We both love children, we want to be teachers and Teach for America sounds like a good deal," Rabiya said.
The program, which was named one of the top 50 places to launch a career by BusinessWeek in 2006, seeks individuals of all backgrounds and career interests.
TFA wants students who show leadership skills that will change the mindset of others, Marek said.
Today is the first deadline to submit an application to TFA. Other deadlines are set for Oct. 2, Jan. 4 and Feb. 15.
For more information, contact Marek via email at email@example.com or visit www.teachforamerica.org.