Columbia students to teach for underprivileged of America

By Amanda Murphy

Teach for America gives children around the country the chance to be taught by college graduates who have shown the eagerness and drive to improve

national education.

Eight Columbia students will join Teach for America in their quest to educate and enlighten students in underprivileged communities.

Teach for America is an organization that places recent college graduates in schools around the country in 39 high-need areas. After acceptance following a lengthy application process, they will travel across the U.S. to increase educational integrity. The students will bring their knowledge and specialties to schools in poverty-stricken areas.

“It’s a very prestigious program, and we are thrilled eight of our students this year have been selected to be a part of it,” said Andrew Whatley, director of academic initiative in the Office of the Provost.

The eight Columbia students who were accepted into the program are Becca James, senior journalism major; Latoya Goodwin, alumna marketing major; Alexis Thomas, senior fiction writing major; Eric Pickersgill, senior photography; Jessa Marsh, senior,fiction writing major; Jessica Valerio, senior arts entertainment and media management and art history major, Joshua O’Kain, graduate arts management major; alumna Kristen Hendon, photography major.

According to Whatley, less than 10 percent of Teach for America applicants are accepted into this selective organization. The Teach for America website said education in low-income communities around the country struggles to help students reach their full potential, and half will graduate high school. The organization works to increase these numbers in poorer areas of the country.

James worked with the organization last summer as an intern at the Mississippi Summer Institute in Cleveland, Miss. This past summer was a notable charter year for the organization because it was the first time it was working in Mississippi.

James will be working in the Twin Cities area as a secondary English language arts teacher. She said one of the most powerful parts of this experience for her was working with people who shared the same vision in life as she does.

“It’s really nice being around a lot of people who are high-functioning, productive, goal-oriented, and they all have that same goal,” she said.

For Goodwin, the program awakened her to a career she had not considered. She found the organization through Whatley who urged her to consider, she said. By researching Teach for America, she found a topic she is passionate about.

Goodwin is also a mother, and teaching accommodates her parenting needs. There is a possibility her daughter will be able to attend if she teaches at a magnet or

charter school.

“I am really overwhelmed by everything working out the way it did,” she said. “I am amazed and I feel honored.”

Goodwin is also thrilled with being able to move to Houston, where she has wanted to live for a few years.

Thomas said Columbia helped her find her love of teaching. She was first exposed to teaching while working with the Center for Community Arts Partnerships.

Thomas will head to Oklahoma in the fall to teach special education. She said she is excited for what lies ahead with the organization and anticipates that it will be an enlightening experience.

“I feel incredibly honored to be part of this,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be

very fulfilling.”

The organization pays for a large portion of the tuition if the participants want to earn a graduate degree. This is an opportunity Goodwin and James plan to take advantage of to pursue their master’s degree in education.

“I’m completely driven to become a big part of the education movement going on in the country,” Goodwin said.

Columbia is trying to make a more concerted effort so more students are aware of the organization and its benefits, Whatley said. He said the college started keeping track of the number of students accepted into the program two years ago. Last year, there were six Columbia students.

“It says Columbia has a student body that is socially conscious and is prepared to meet the challenges in education of the coming years,” Whatley said.

He emphasized the accomplishments of these Columbia students and his excitement for their future achievements.

“These are remarkable young people, and they are out there doing our college proud,” Whatley said.