Pepperdine seniors are taking advantage of an opportunity to serve in underprivileged schools across the country, with 11 seniors joining the ranks of Teach for America next year.
This year 64 percent of Pepperdine applicants were accepted into the program, more than tripling the national acceptance rate of only 21 percent.
“I would say that in regards to a school of this size, Pepperdine is leading,” said recruitment director Annette Beebe.
In America today, 13 million children are growing up in poverty. Only half of them will graduate high school. Those who do will perform on average at an eighth grade level.
According to the organization’s Web site, Teach for America (TFA) is committed to challenging what it describes as “our nation’s greatest injustice:” the educational achievement gap that “persists along socioeconomic and racial lines.”
TFA recruits student and community leaders from all over the country and places them in a two-year teaching position in a low-income urban or rural school. Participants come from all different backgrounds and majors, and many are not necessarily looking to become teachers in the first place. What they all have in common, however, are strong leadership skills and a passion for social justice.
Business Week recently named the organization one 2007’s top 10 places to launch a career. Brian Johnson, executive director of TFA Los Angeles and a TFA alumnus, said this can be explained by the unique opportunity the program offers.
“I think it has to do with the fact that there are very few opportunities that give you the chance to lead and make real impacts,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity early in your career gives great insight into the social injustice of the [educational] achievement gap.”
One Pepperdine senior taking advantage of the opportunity to serve is political science major Tyler Haupert. Haupert will be teaching English at a middle school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He said he was drawn to the south after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and looks forward to helping students in need.
“I’m excited because I’ve lived in the L.A. area my whole life and I think sometimes people in L.A and Malibu get caught up in the bubble that is the affluence and wealth of L.A.,” Haupert said. “I’m excited to go somewhere else where people don’t have the lifestyle that I’ve experienced my whole life.”
Senior Andy Canales, who serves as Pepperdine’s student president, has been accepted into the program but has not yet decided whether to join. If he does, he will relocate to Miami to teach social studies to middle school and high school students.
“I was born and raised in L.A. and went to public school for kindergarten through 12th grade, and so that experience allows me to identify with many of the kids that Teach for America reaches out to,” Canales said. “I know that I wouldn’t be where I am without the help from teachers in high school.”
2006 Pepperdine alumna Crystal Luong, a former Graphic editor, has already completed a year of her teaching requirement and has described it as challenging and rewarding. Luong teaches English at a middle school in East Harlem, New York, and has recently started a mentoring program that pairs staff members and teachers with troubled students.
“I’ve only been [mentoring] for two months now but I can already see differences in the students,” Luong said. “I’m able to build meaningful relationships on a daily basis.”
Next year Luong will begin a career as a financial analyst. Although she will no longer be teaching, she said it does not mean she will stop working for education, which is one of the fundamental aspects of the TFA program.
TFA is not a “teacher prep program,” but an opportunity for participants to lead in their communities and help address the growing education crises, she noted.
By 2010, TFA aims to double the number of teachers in the field, with 800 schools nationwide run by alumni and 100 alumni in elected office across the country. Johnson said this will not only help meet the immediate need for teachers, but develop community leaders who are willing to address the inequities present in the education system.
“Joining Teach for America changed my life and opened my eyes to the possibility of what this country can be and has inspired my confidence that it can be a truly equal country,” Johnson said.
The next round of TFA applications is due Feb. 15 and can be submitted online at teachforamerica.org.