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Teachers train to instruct in low-income areas

During a work-lunch for Teach For America on June 6, Megan Simpson, 26, and Nichols Plaskda, 25, work on their TFA assignments and tasks. (Photo by Shawn Raymundo)
During a work-lunch for Teach For America on June 6, Megan Simpson, 26, and Nichols Plaskda, 25, work on their TFA assignments and tasks. (Photo by Shawn Raymundo)

A group of 150 Teach For America corps members are spending five weeks living at ASU and training in Phoenix K-12 schools with the mission to close America's education achievement gap.

The members are part of a summer training institute that is a precursor to a two-year commitment to teaching in one of 46 targeted regions in the country. Phoenix is one of nine summer training institutes for Teach For America corps members. The nonprofit organization's summer institute began June 3 and will end July 7.

The members stay in the Hassayampa Academic Village at ASU and travel by bus to teach and get professional development at Phoenix schools, like those in the Roosevelt School District.

Teach For America Phoenix spokesman Steve Erickson said the organization recruits college graduates across the country with a desire to work in classrooms with students growing up in impoverished or low-income areas.

"(Teach For America is) looking for folks who hold leadership qualities that we see correlate very strongly with successful classroom teachers," Erickson said. "Whether they continue to work in education or go into other sectors, we're really hoping that they take this newfound conviction and insight that they've built up from their classroom experience to help work toward eliminating educational inequity."

Erickson said the corps members are constantly being observed in the classroom and receiving feedback.

"They are really trying to build immediately on their teaching practices and skills so they can be ready to have an immediate impact when they start in a classroom in the fall as full-time teachers," Erickson said. "We want to make sure, when our teachers are in front of our students, they have a good pulse on what they are doing and what areas they can improve in."

He said the Teach For America Phoenix program has been largely successful because of partnerships between the organization and the surrounding school districts as well as a strong partnership with ASU.

Phoenix corps member Jeff Olson is a former Nashville resident who came to Phoenix for the summer institute after completing an interdisciplinary degree at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Olson is currently training at Desert Edge High School teaching 11th grade English, the subject he will be teaching at Agua Fria High School in the fall.

Olson said coming from a private school has shown him the difference in the academic opportunities between low-income and affluent families.

"I look back and I feel the inequity of it," Olson said. "This doesn't make sense that I was given all of these opportunities that other people don't have."

He said he chose to work with Teach For America in an effort to achieve something bigger than himself.

Olson said he is willing and excited to be an educator for as long as he is effective at teaching, but also sees himself working in orphan care in the long-term.

"You have the ability to intervene on behalf of the disadvantaged," Olson said.

Teach For America Arizona recruitment manager Apollonia Gallegos said putting corps members in Phoenix drives them to continue teaching in the area and familiarizes them with the education achievement gap occurring in Arizona.

"We really push our core members to think about how they're going to change someone's life in the nine months they have them in their classroom," Gallegos said.


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