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Because all children can learn

Kenya Fuemmeler | Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Imagine standing beneath the Golden Dome, basking in the glory of earning a diploma from the University of Notre Dame. While doing so, your mind also wonders to the future. What will you be doing? Where will your friends be? Will you be part of something you’re proud of? Will your future steps have an impact on society as a whole?

These questions raced through my mind last spring during my first walk up the hallowed steps of Main Building. I stood hand-in-hand with three girls I’d spent the last four years with as we each grew into the women we are today. We all took a different journey – not good not bad, just different. From that day on the steps of Main Building, I entered my future with Teach for America.

No, I never intended to join Teach for America. In fact, I even refused to meet with the recruiter on several occasions, claiming I was law school bound. However, after their unrelenting insistence, I finally squeezed in time between class and practice. They informed me of our growing national crisis regarding the current achievement gap in education and ways that I could help rectify this great injustice. After many conversations, countless trips to the Grotto and the application process, I eventually agreed to spend the next two years helping our nation’s poorest children.

Looking back, I now realize how little I understood the growing epidemic sweeping our country’s schools: educational inequity in student achievement. I walked through the doors of Eskridge High School in north St. Louis on Aug. 20 and soon stood face to face with the achievement gap. What a humbling experience! The burden of educating 120 students, freshmen through seniors, in the subjects of personal finance, geography, economics and American History soon appeared overwhelming. When I gave a reading and math diagnostic test to my students, they scored on average at a sixth-grade reading level and a seventh-grade math level.

For me, this was the achievement gap: a senior reading at a second-grade reading level, “high performing” students scoring 14 on the ACT, having to teach the seven continents in geography, acknowledging that I must teach my students how to write a paragraph. These students were not a statistic thrown at me; they were my responsibility.

I acknowledge that I cannot undo the past for my students, but I possess the ability to change their futures. I lack the power to change the entire system, but I can change the future of 120 students. I can use the leadership skills I acquired as a student of Our Lady’s University to guide my students in their pursuit of academic excellence. I can invest and motivate my students in their education, so they become advocates for their future academic careers. I can empower my students to value their education, thus refusing to accept mediocrity in the classroom.

Through these actions I will help close America’s achievement gap. The University of Notre Dame prides itself on service to the poor and underprivileged. I urge each of you to consider joining Teach for America’s movement to end educational equality. Consider the injustice of being giving options in life based on your zip code.

Where would you be without your education? Utilize your education for the benefit of our nation’s greatest commodity, our children, to empower them to achieve academic excellence and pursue their dreams. All children can learn, but it is our responsibility to teach them.

Kenya Fuemmeler is 2007 softball alumnus and former PW Purple Weasel. Any questions or comments may be directed towards [email protected]

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