Teach for America to help area education

Published 10:51 pm Friday, June 11, 2010

Several young teachers came to the University of West Alabama’s Bell Conference Center as part of the Teach for America program, entering its first year in Alabama.

Teach for America is the national corps of outstanding recent college graduates who commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools. More than 7,300 corps members are teaching in 35 regions across the country. This year, 4,000 new corps members were selected from 35,000 applicants, including more than 200 college seniors in Alabama.

Its mission is to help eliminate educational inequality by enlisting some of the most promising teaching graduates in the nation. Those graduates, called corps members, commit to two years of teaching in the schools in need.

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“It is a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Teach for America director J.W. Carpenter, who taught for two years in rural Arkansas. “The students benefit in that they are achieving significant, but the teachers also benefit from the life-changing experience.”

The program began in 1990, but this year marks the first time for the program to extend into Alabama.

“We really appreciate the University of West Alabama for being so gracious in hosting us here,” said Carpenter. “That includes the people who housed us and the people who prepared our meals. The Bell Conference Center is, in my opinion, one of the best facilities in the state. I just want to express how gracious and how excellent they were and how proud I am to have this program here.”

Some of the teachers will find themselves in Marengo County beginning this August. Marengo County Schools superintendent Luke Hallmark was on hand Thursday to interview corps members.

“It has exceeded all expectations,” Hallmark said. “The kids that I’ve interviewed have very impressive resumes, but they are so much more down-to-earth than I thought they would be.

“I just got through interviewing a kid who made a 36 on his ACT — that’s perfect! And they all have a passion that you just don’t see every day. It is quite clear that they want to give back to Marengo County or the Black Belt what has been important to them, and that’s an education.”

State Sen. Hank Sanders was the guest speaker at a luncheon held for the Teach for America program on Wednesday.

“I think Teach for America is a great program,” he said after the luncheon. “I think that they help to change the culture of our schools for the better. Young folks come in with a lot of idealism and a lot of commitment, and I think that’s good for all of us.

“When they first started talking about coming to Alabama, several superintendents and a couple of people from Teach for America met in Selma, and I was in that group. They needed a little matching money, and I was glad to help in that regard. I have admired Teach for America from afar for years. I’m just so glad they are coming to Alabama.”

Caleb Churchill of Columbus, Ind., was one of several corps members interviewed by Hallmark on Thursday.

“This is really exciting,” Churchill said. “I’m really excited to be a part of everything that’s going on here. I’m excited to get into a classroom and do what I can to help. I know we’re going to learn a lot from it, but we’re going to do everything we can to help the students grow and succeed and achieve.”

Hallmark said that the state — especially the Black Belt region — could take advantage of a program like Teach for America.

“I think it’s got a world of potential,” he said. “I’m just glad that we are in the forefront of it.”

Teach for America will establish a regional office in Marion in September.

For more information about Teach for America, go to the Web site www.teachforamerica.com.