Thursday marked the final deadline to apply for the 2014 Teach For America corps. Last year, more than 100 students were accepted into the corps from USC.
Teach For America is a nonprofit that places recent college graduates as well as professionals in low-income classrooms for a two-year period in an effort to reduce educational inequity across the nation. The organization’s purpose is based on the connection it sees between economic inequity and educational inequity in America.
“[The fact] that 92 percent of kids who grow up below the poverty line return to poverty for a second generation is just completely unacceptable,” said Carrington Bester, recruitment manager for TFA Los Angeles and a 2011 Houston TFA corps member. “The more allies [these kids] have, the better off as a culture we are at eradicating the achievement gap in this country.”
Joining the TFA corps has become a popular option for many USC graduates. Last year, 109 Trojans were offered the opportunity to join the corps. Not only does this mean that USC received more TFA offers than any other campus in the nation, it also makes TFA the top post-graduate option for USC students.
Lexine Cudjoe, a senior majoring in political science, believes that USC’s engagement with its surrounding community encourages students to pursue such options as TFA.
“We’re very familiar with the inequalities and discrepancies on the perimeters of our school, and I think it’s very healthy for USC to continue to engage in the community around us,” Cudjoe said.
Cudjoe will be joining the 2014 Houston TFA corps, but she has already had a lot of experience with TFA. She attended USC’s TFA-sponsored Alternative Spring Break trip to Baton Rouge, La. last year and since then, has also interned for TFA in Mississippi and served as a campus campaign coordinator.
Cudjoe was inspired to get involved in TFA because of her own educational background. When she was in seventh grade at Foshay Learning Center, a nearby school located about a mile west from the University Park campus, she enrolled in the USC-sponsored Neighborhood Academic Initiative program that ultimately enabled her to attend a four-year university.
“In seeing the kind of impact that college has made on my social mobility, I want to, in turn, reach back into other students’ lives who would not have this opportunity to move out of poverty without education being the pathway,” Cudjoe said.
Zade Shakir, a senior majoring in biology and international relations, said he is excited to join the 2014 Bay Area corps because of his own experience with academic inequity in high school.
“Just because the high school near my house had a poor science program, I left high school hating science,” Shakir said. “Then I came to USC and took the science general [education] class here and I had a great professor. Now I can’t imagine my future without science.”
Shakir hopes by being part of TFA he can encourage other students to follow their dreams.
“I think of all the students that could be missing the opportunity to find their dreams,” Shakir said. “I want to be a part of the change for the future and to change this educational system that marginalizes some people.”
Shakir is not currently planning to pursue a lifelong career in education, but he believes that his time in TFA will both affect change for his students and will equip him with the skills necessary for his future career.
Milly Shah, a 2013 USC graduate and a member of the 2013 Charlotte corps, echoed Shakir’s beliefs. Shah currently hopes to go to physical therapy school after her two years in the corps, and noted that being a corps member is an opportunity for growth.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s immensely rewarding,” Shah said. “One thing I definitely did not think I was going to experience was immense corporate growth and growth in my leadership skills.”
Besides providing her with practical skills, being a member of the TFA corps has also been very personally rewarding for Shah.
“One moment that really stands out is when one of my students accidentally called me ‘Mom,’” Shah said. “As a teacher, you tend to forget that you are this consistent adult in an adolescent’s life … [Being called mom] reminded me that I’m so much more than just a teacher.”