TFA teaches hope
Unbending commitment will help bring quality education to lower-income communities and improve overall education in America, members and alumni of the Teach for America corps said.
"Seeing those kids come to class every day gives me hope," said Wambui Kamuiru, a Rucker Elementary School fourth grade teacher. "Every day, I see my kids learning. If there are other teachers out there who hold true to making sure their students are learning, we can make a difference and get past statistics."
Kamuiru, Jennifer Fain, Lonna Dawson and Andrew McCray are members of the TFA corps who spoke to members of the co-ed Hispanic fraternity Alpha Psi Lambda Mu UH Chapter and members of the Black Student Union on Tuesday at the University Center Spindletop Room about how TFA is working to improve the quality of education for underprivileged communities across the country.
"You have to focus on one kid at a time," Dawson said. "When I have a pre-literate student who by the end of my eighth grade class can at least read The Cat in the Hat, I know I’ve made a difference."
Black and Hispanic children are three times as likely to grow up in a lower-income area, according to a study by the National Center for Children in Poverty in 2006. Those in low-income areas that graduate from high school will, on average, read and do math at the level of eighth-graders in high-income communities, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 2005.
Jennifer Fain, the campaign coordinator for TFA at Rice University, said such statistics inspired her to join TFA.
"It became an obsession for me," Fain said. "I worked in legal aid at Rice, and as a legal aide, one of my functions is to help keep families together. I felt that TFA was going to help me do that and take it to the next level."
TFA members said the training process they went through was rigorous.
New members are put through a five-week summer preparation program either in Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia or Phoenix.
The Houston training occurs at UH.
"Not too far from here (at the UC) are two towers called Moody Towers," McCray said. "Over there, I went through the most rigorous professional-development experience in my life."
The recruits said that the professional-development program is worth it. Many graduate schools, including the Rice University Graduate School of Management, the Baylor College of Medicine and the UH Law Center, offer stipends and financial assistance to TFA alumni.
Psychology senior Taron Scott said that the commitment and dedication of TFA members he witnessed at the Houston professional-development session was what convinced him to learn more about the program.
Scott still wants to finish his degree in psychology, but he is considering applying for TFA. He said he hopes his experience will give him the means to help promote awareness of public education issues nationwide.
"My ultimate goal is actually to go into acting somehow," Scott said. "If I get into TFA, then I still won’t go into teaching, but I figure if I’m going to be on TV, I might as well take the Bill Cosby approach and use it to promote public awareness of education in America."
Alumni and corps members said that applicants need an unyielding commitment to students.
"TFA is looking for people who are going to drive their kids to Rice just to show them a college campus when no one else has the means," McCray said. "When we did this, we didn’t do it just because it would look good on our resumes. We committed to this, and once you’re in, by God, you’re in."