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Teach for America popular choice

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Teach for America has issued a call to address the educational injustice in this nation, and eager young college students are responding with thousands of applications yearly. Notre Dame students are no exception – they accounted for 24 of the 2000 accepted applicants last year, and this year’s October deadline saw 49 students apply compared to last year’s 27.Teach for America is a two-year postgraduate service organization that seeks to level the educational playing field between by uniting motivated college graduates with low-income public schools in urban and rural communities. Since its inception in 1990, the program has expanded from 500 corps members in six placement sites to more than 3,000 corps members in 22 sites in 2004.Several factors contributed to the program’s growth. In 2000, to celebrate its 10-year anniversary, the program launched an aggressive five-year campaign strategy. In 2001, Laura Bush recognized Teach for America as one of five organizations she would actively support. After Sept. 11, the program saw its application numbers rise from 4,000 annually to about 15,000.There are also more internal reasons why the explosion occurred, said Brad Leon, Teach for America recruitment director for Notre Dame.”Recently, Teach for America put much more money and resources into recruitment,” he said. “They went from 11 to 12 recruitment directors to close to 25. They are also sending back more alumni … people are very excited to go back and talk about their experiences.”While the program is growing in general, the growth at Notre Dame is “outpacing that of the entire country’s,” Leon said. He thinks he knows why, too.”I can speculate why [Notre Dame students’ acceptance rates have been so high]. Notre Dame students are so well-rounded, academically and in the community,” Leon said. “Even Harvard and Yale have lower acceptance rates.”The national acceptance rate last year was 12 percent; Notre Dame’s was nearly 25 percent. John Staud, administrative director for the Alliance for Catholic Education, agreed with Leon – Notre Dame students do have a lot of potential to pass along.”Clearly, they are thoroughly impressed with Notre Dame students, as are we. We just knew that 10 years ago, before they existed,” Staud said. “We both prize the notion that if you take talented, highly-motivated students, they’ll make great teachers.”While he declined to reveal any application numbers, Staud did say the ACE program’s numbers “have been going up consistently.” They accepted 88 to the program last year. The financial and post-service opportunities that Teach for America offers pose different draws than those offered by ACE.While ACE teachers earn a Master’s degree in education and receive about an $11,000 yearly stipend, Teach for America corps members receive full teachers’ salaries through their school districts, to use however they please. Without the degree, corps members are hired using state-approved alternative certification programs, which generally means demonstrating proficiency in the grades or subject matter they will be teaching.Leon stressed the flexibility of the program along with the opportunities it provides for further studies – at various prestigious law schools, medical schools, business schools and government or public policy schools. “One of the draws is that we take all academic majors; no one specific focus comes more than another,” said Leon. “Plus, we have a lot of really fantastic relationships with postgraduate programs … they value the experience our corps members have.” Teach for America has also established a relationship with Americorps, a national service network that offers a two-year deferral on student loans. The service gives all corps members an award of $9,450 that can be used to repay student loans or finance further educational pursuits.Arianne Watkins, a senior who has signed with the Teach For America program for next year, said that the two-year service opportunity was an “ideal commitment,” both in terms of the focus, and the opportunities it provides. “Public schools are a lot worse off than Catholic schools; I feel I’ll be doing the work where the most is needed,” she said. “Plus, you can go to graduate school if you choose, and we’re being paid, which is comforting, as a college graduate.”