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Teach for America CEO lauds program on campus

Teresa Mathew/Daily
Wendy Kopp, the founder of TFA, speaks at the University yesterday. Buy this photo

By Cece Zhou, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 19, 2012

Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp encouraged an audience of more than 300 University students to teach in rural and urban districts that struggle to provide quality K–12 education in an event at the natural science auditorium last night.

In 1989, Kopp successfully made her senior-year thesis at Princeton University into reality by creating the non-profit organization, TFA. Kopp was inspired to found TFA because she was surprised by the number of recruiters encouraging students to work in “money-making” corporations instead of disadvantaged communities. In a recent visit to Detroit, a newly created TFA site, she discussed her early ideas about the organization.

“This label about our generation (that) we supposedly all just wanted to go work on Wall Street and make a lot of money, I thought that it was a little crazy,” she said. “Everyone I knew was just searching for a way to make a real difference in the world and they weren't finding it. I came to the conclusion that the problem wasn't really the generation but rather, the recruiters.”

She explained that one-fifth of American children grow up in poverty, adding that they have an 8-percent chance of graduating from college by age 24.

Kopp shared the story of one TFA participant, Megan Brousseau, who taught biology to a class of more than 100 ninth-grade students in the Bronx. All of Brousseau’s students passed the biology Regents Exam, a pre-college standardized test for high-school students, though most students in the school had not attempted the optional exam in the past.

Kopp added that cases like Brousseau’s redefine the potential of students from all walks of life across the nation.

“Twenty years ago … the prevailing notion was that socioeconomic background did predict educational outcomes, but today, we have growing numbers of communities all over every region that I visit,” she said. “We have school systems that people had completely given up on that have made meaningful systems of progress.”

Business junior Trevor Grieb, a campus campaign coordinator for TFA, said he got involved in education reform when he heard about the low percentage of students graduating from college from low-income communities.

“Teach for America provides that opportunity to go right from college and dive into solving a real problem,” Grieb said. “College students have … all the know-how to implement little or big incremental changes to help improve the entire education system.”

LSA senior Blair Daniels said Kopp’s speech inspired her to apply for TFA because the program appeals to her.

“My friend just got into Teach for America and she encouraged me to do it too,” Daniels said. “I've been tutoring kids in Detroit, and I like it a lot.”

Kendra Hearn, a clinical assistant professor and TFA’s certification program coordinator at the School of Education, said she is impressed by TFA and similar organizations that encourage people to work in urban and rural environments in need of teachers and resources.

“The students in these schools will often have a rotating door of substitute teachers or people who are even less prepared,” Hearn said. “ … We stand as a nation to really look hard at how we go about getting passionate, well-prepared, highly effective teachers into every single child's classroom, regardless of their zip codes.”