Whitman cracks list of top contributors to Teach for America

Elise Tinseth

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Whitman’s recently graduated class of 2012 is the 16th top contributor in the small schools category to the Teach for America program, sending 12 students.

Teach for America, a growing nonprofit program of about 33,000 members, takes employees, teachers and college graduates and places them into schools in low-income communities around the country. Each employee of the program works as a full-time teacher in their school district.

“Our main goal is to become a pipeline for teachers in low-income communities. My team [and I] recruit, train and support college graduates,” said Gaby Barahona, manager of regional communications for Teach for America.

Many Whitman alumni have joined Teach for America in the past and some are still employed by the program. Current Recruitment Manager for Teach for America at Whitman and Gonzaga University Jacqueline Kamm graduated from Whitman in 2010.

“Teach for America’s mission is to close the achievement gap between students in low-income communities and those in high-income communities,” said Kamm.

Though it is challenging, Whitman is a constant supplier of employees for the Teach for America program.

“I am proud to see so many Whitman students committing themselves to the issue of educational inequity. I truly feel that my Whitman education exposed me to issues of social injustice and instilled in me a passion to fight against those issues,” said Kamm.

While volunteering with the program, Kamm taught English Language Arts and Student Leadership to sixth through eighth graders in Denver, Colo. She is currently enrolled in the Danforth Educational Leadership program at the University of Washington to receive her principal certification.

“Overall, the experience was incredibly challenging, but thoroughly rewarding. It was not easy, but when a student made significant growth in their reading or writing, it made all of the effort more than worth it,” said Kamm.

Director of Career Development Susan Buchanan helps students apply for post-graduation programs, including Teach for America.

Teach for America signs were scattered near Penrose Library last week. Photo by cade beck.

“I know that Teach for America really likes Whitman students because they track who they hire and they track what happens to them after and they have been very, very satisfied [and] very happy with the students they have hired from Whitman,” said Buchanan.

Though in past years Whitman has consistently sent around seven to nine graduates to the program, the 12 that were sent this year is the largest number in history.

“It never ceases to amaze me when Whitman students come up to [me] their senior year and realize that they love learning and many of them want to share that love of learning, so they say, ‘I want to go into teaching!'” said Buchanan.

Though Teach for America is very successful in getting post-grads into teaching, it is a challenging program that may not be for everyone.

“They put the teachers into schools where they’re having a hard time finding teachers. So, they’re poorer schools; they’re schools that have a lot of problems [with] students who are not thriving in school, so it’s hard,” said Buchanan.

In Colorado, Kamm taught eighth graders who read, on average, at a fifth grade reading level. Some read at the level of third and fourth graders, and one student was reading at a first grade level. According to Kamm, the average came up to a sixth grade level by the end of a year of hard work.

“I was simply someone who cared deeply for my students and was willing to work incredibly hard to ensure their success. Ultimately, this proves to me that this is a solvable problem: Students in low-income communities can and do achieve at high levels and motivated, intelligent leaders at Whitman have the power to do exactly what I did in the classroom,” said Kamm.

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