“You can’t measure the impact of a Teach For America teacher based on how long they may stay in your community or how long you think they may.” As a student hugely affected by the influence of Teach For America, these were words I did not mind speaking in support for Teach For America at BESE’s Board of Finance hearing on allocating additional funding to TFA. Even after a seven-hour wait to show our support and speak from our experiences, I was one of 50 present to show support.
Teach For America is a life-changing organization, and I showed up specifically to tell how it changed my life and many others. I cannot speak on behalf of all members of TFA, but I can speak of those who touched my life personally, and of those, one in particular comes to mind.
The thing about this teacher that stood out the most was his level of investment in us, not only as students but as people. I graduated from Belaire High School in 2010. Today, I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison double-majoring in sociology and political science on the First Wave Full Ride scholarship for my talents in spoken word poetry and my academic merit. I had the talent and motivation, but I didn’t have the know-how to make it as far away from my roots as I did. The X factor in my success was simply one teacher realizing that many of our schools aren’t preparing us for life, just for a test.
I met this teacher the second semester of my junior year. The following fall he quit teaching at Belaire High School to start the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition. This organization’s purpose was to connect talented and extraordinary students to the resources they would need to succeed best in life.
In its pilot year alone it helped to accumulate $400,000 in scholarships. This program has come a long way since it took in its first 14 students. To this date it has helped 65 students attend four-year colleges and has accumulated $4 million in scholarships. This is testament to the potentials of Teach For America, with its creator and executive directors all being TFA alumni and its mentoring and tutoring programs being run by mostly TFA volunteers.
It is for this very reason that I hope after I graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to join the ranks of south Louisiana’s TFA corp and do my part to make this city’s school system a more-opportune place for those it was intended to serve before administration and faculty’s priority became testing over teaching.
Dominique Ricks, program director
Baton Rouge Youth Coalition