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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Teach For America aims for equity

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Armed with the knowledge that representation matters to student success, Teach For America is working to ensure students of color see people who look like them in the teaching staff.

According to Johns Hopkins University, African American students who have one Black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate high school and 13% more likely to enroll in college. 

“We want to see that everyone is able to flourish in Indianapolis,” Amar Patel, executive director of Teach For America Indianapolis, a nonprofit education organization, said. “We believe, therefore, that racial equity has to be central in the conversations and strategies for progress.”

Since its founding in 1989, Teach For America has placed an emphasis on equity in education, placing teachers in impoverished areas to enhance the quality of education for minority and low-income students. 

“We recruit beginning teachers, 40% of whom identify as people of color,” Patel said Judonne Hemingway, managing director of corps member development, started out in the program as a teacher.

“I started my teaching career in for-profit communications work in Chicago,” Hemingway said. “I learned about Teach For America and came [to Indiana] and met the team and joined the corps.”

Hemingway taught high school English for two years as a corps member for Teach For America and worked her way up the ranks, which isn’t uncommon for corps members. When corps members become school officials, as Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) superintendent Aleesia Johnson did, they are able to take their training from Teach For America and share it with their staff.

Johnson was unavailable for comment.

“A lot of our corps members are still working in schools in the city,” Hemingway said. “So [the training] continues to spread … and my hope is through their leadership, they are leading non-corps members and continuing conversations and training and changing the mindsets of schools. By fostering leadership through our alumni, their impact is one way we might influence conversations for others.”

According to Patel, there are currently more than 300 Teach For America teachers in Indianapolis, almost exclusively within IPS boundaries. He hopes the organization provides educators and students with the resources they need to close the education gap for students of color. 

“When our alumni go on to work within schools and work in policy,” he said, “… we are ensuring that our resources drive toward closing those gaps in postsecondary access and growing our network to get more engaged to make sure access to postsecondary learning and financing in schools is equitable.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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