Teach for America Trains 500 New Teachers in Phoenix, Places 125 in Area Schools
Teach for America, the non-profit organization that trains volunteers to teach in public schools, will launch 125 newly-trained teachers into Valley schools beginning as soon as this month. This new batch of teachers will bring the total number of local volunteers in the two-year program up to 250.
Ashley Cusick Teach for America volunteers attend a training session at Phoenix Collegiate Academy High School in July.
For some, the Peace Corps-esque program is a lifesaver for public schools. Others see it as a crash course in one of the most important professions there is -- and a risky proposition that places potentially ill-prepared young people in tough teaching jobs.
This summer, Phoenix served as one of nine hubs for the program's five-week volunteer training, known as Institute. Phoenix's Institute trained nearly 500 new teachers, says Sharise Darby, a communications director with Teach for America. Besides the teachers who will be staying in Phoenix, those who trained here will be heading to New Mexico, South Dakota, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Ohio, Darby says.
Teach for America recruits competitive college graduates and career-changing professionals to teach in schools in low-income communities. The program has been placing teachers in area schools since 1994, says Lindsay Wheeler DeFrancisco, Executive Director of Phoenix's programming. Over 700 alumni of the program still live and work in the Phoenix area, she says.
Teach for America's overarching mission is to remedy the gap in educational achievement between students in low-income schools and those elsewhere. The program asks its volunteers to commit to at least two years of teaching and hopes that they will remain involved in public education afterward.
The incoming group of Phoenix volunteers is the most diverse Teach for America has seen in Phoenix, Wheeler DeFrancisco says. Over 40 percent of the new teachers come from low-income backgrounds themselves, and almost 40 percent identify as people of color, she says.
During Institute, the 500 trainees lived at ASU and taught in 14 different Phoenix schools. "Having Institute here is a huge benefit to our community," says Wheeler DeFrancisco. "It allows us to support the needs of students during the summer." Some of the participating students were in mandated remedial courses, while others volunteered to take part in summer programming, she says.
Joshua Jovanelly, 25, is a Los Angeles native and one of the incoming volunteers. In his final year as a journalism major at USC, he applied to Teach for America, but opted instead to take a job as a newspaper reporter in the Gila River Indian Community, a reservation on the south side of Phoenix.
But he eventually decided to look at Teach for America again. "I think what really made me reapply was the fact that I had spent these two years in an underserved community," he says. "Through my work writing, I confronted a lot of the problems and obstacles that these underserved communities face, and I really thought that education could be the best vehicle to solving them. I felt my impact could be greater in the classroom."