Teach for America sees boom in number of applicants

By Erin Renzas

With each school year comes a new crop of seniors at the University and with them come endless job hunts, graduate student applications and various graduate school examinations.

Recently, more and more students have been opting for post-graduation volunteer programs, such as Teach for America.

Teach for America seeks to eradicate educational inequity between high- and low-income schools. The program places recently graduated college students in 22 regions across the nation to work in low-income schools and teach students in areas where there is a severe shortage in teachers.

Currently, 3,500 corps members are teaching in over 1,000 schools in 22 regions across the country. Several graduate schools offer benefits such as two-year deferrals, scholarships, fellowships, course credits, waived application fees and tuition assistance to Teach For America corps members and alumni who are accepted into their programs.

“There has been a huge increase in the number of students wanting to take part in the program,” said Sean Precious, a 2002 University alumnus who participated in the program and now works to recruit college students. “I think it’s a sign of our commitment to educational equity in this country.”

In the 2003-04 school year, 136 students from the University applied for the program, said Precious. Last year, that number increased to 193, a 57 percent increase in applicants from the year before.

This trend extends beyond the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said Precious. For example, last year 200 students from the University of Michigan, 194 students from the University of California at Los Angeles, 12 students from Yale University and 8 students from Harvard University applied to the program.

“I moved into this position because I saw the need for qualified participants, and I saw all the potential here at the University of Illinois,” Precious said.

Precious graduated from LAS and moved to Los Angeles to teach sixth grade math and science to underprivileged students.

“My students wanted to learn and were very motivated,” Precious said.

When Precious first entered his classroom, 70 percent of his students were reading and writing below the third-grade level. At the end of the school year, 91 percent of his class could perform at grade level.

“Members have the opportunity to make an immediate impact,” Precious said, adding that members are able to affect students both in the short run and long run.

The application process works hard to weed out applicants who are not truly dedicated to the cause, Precious said.

The program requires a two-year commitment from participating members and includes an intensive five-week training program. Most students come into the program with no prior teaching experience and have a range of educational backgrounds, Precious said.

“Training was amazing,” said Nate Allen, a current program participant in Miami, Fla., and a 2005 University graduate. “They prepare you as best as they can-they equip you with the tools to manage your classroom and to become an effective, result-oriented teacher.”

After his two years in the program, Allen plans to continue teaching or pursue his doctoral degree.

According to Allen, the skills learned in the program are applicable to the real world and the business world.

“As a teacher, you are teaching and inspiring troubled youth, and if you can lead them, you can lead people who are already motivated,” Allen said.

Patience and an understanding of social inequalities also have been prominent things learned since he began teaching Aug. 1, Allen said. Allen teaches eighth-grade math.

Phyllis Vanlandingham, coordinator of secondary education advising in LAS, said she feels the program is beneficial and does not compete with certified teachers for jobs.

These areas are severely understaffed and both the students and members benefit from the program, Vanlandingham said.

“Most of these people will not be teachers … but they will be more educated about public schools, the education and where tax dollars go in the education system,” Vanlandingham said. “People understand that Teach for America is going to train a more knowledgeable electorate.”

Students may apply for the program online at its Web site: http://www.teachforamerica.org. The first application deadline for the 2006 school year is Oct. 30, 2005, and the second is Feb. 17, 2006, Precious said.

“Participants who are just looking to pad their resume won’t last more than a month,” Allen said. “You have to have passion and a deep desire to help these students fight inequality.”

Find out more about Teach for America on this website:

www.teachforamerica.org