Teaching underprivileged students in impoverished areas of the country may seem like a thankless job to some, but University students have turned out in record numbers this year with hopes of joining the increasingly popular Teach For America program.

With the program’s final application deadline Friday, about 300 applications have been submitted to join the program next year, Teach For America representatives said.

In addition, more than 640 applications for the program have been started at the University, between undergraduate and graduate students. That’s the most of any college in the country, ahead of the University of California at Berkeley, which has produced about 400.

The University has consistently been the leader in applicants for Teach For America. But this year, the number of applicants is on track to make history.

“The University is on pace to have more students join Teach For America than any school ever,” said LSA senior Will Fogel, a campus campaign coordinator for the organization. “Everybody has their own theory as to why the numbers are way up this year.”

Teach For America, one of the largest nonprofits in the country, places college graduates in underprivileged and under-funded schools throughout the country to work for two years as a teacher.

According to the organization’s website, half of the students growing up in low-income communities will not graduate from high school by the time they are 18, and of the half that do graduate, just one in 10 will graduate from college.

So far, Teach For America has accepted more than 50 applicants. Fogel said that only five have declined their offer.

LSA senior Elizabeth Mann, who plans to work for Teach For America in Miami next fall, said she thinks the efforts to expand the organization could be the reason for the increased interest.

“This is something that people in the organization have been working for,” Mann said. “I don’t know what it has been like in the past, but I know they were doing a lot of recruiting.”

Mann said a Teach For America representative contacted her during the first week of the school year and continued to recruit her throughout the year.

She said she was drawn to the organization because she was looking for a hands-on experience that could help her find the roots of the problems in the United States’ educational system.

Jon Gleicher, a former Teach For America campus campaign coordinator at the University, said the organization has increased its recruiting efforts at the University from past years.

Most schools have one recruitment director, while the University has two to go along with four campus campaign coordinators.

“We invested this much because we see how active these students are,” said Gleicher, who graduated from the University in 2004 and worked in West Harlem through the program.

Law School student Jacob Weixler started working for Teach For America in New Orleans in August of 2005. He said he was placed there two weeks before Hurricane Katrina ravaged most of the city.

“Teach For America was a good way for me to make an immediate impact,” Weixler said. “It shaped my beliefs about poverty and made me want to become an advocate for these people.”

Asked if he would do it again, Weixler replied, “Absolutely.”

Weixler said Michigan is a state very in tune with people living in poverty, and that could be one of the reasons why Teach For America is so successful at the University. He said the experience – especially in the context of Katrina’s aftermath – helped him a lot.

“It made me tougher,” Weixler said. “I had some kids who bought in right away, and some who tried to push up against me.” Grace Chen, who graduated from the University last year, is currently teaching math to tenth- and eleventh- graders in rural North Carolina.

Chen said it has been a good experience, but unlike anything she has ever done before.

“It’s a strange feeling,” she said. “It’s discouraging and encouraging at the same time. It shows that we have to work a little harder.”

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