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Something bigger and better

Lulu Meraz | Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Young people growing up in low income communities are in need of great teachers and role models. And the stakes are higher than ever. Only one in 10 students growing up in poverty will attend college. And for those lacking a college degree, many doors of opportunity are firmly shut.

Young people need mentors and guides to help them become invested in their own future. And they need to see firsthand that it can be done: that people just like them can go to college, earn a degree, and go on to have a meaningful career. When I graduated from Notre Dame and joined Teach For America’s Los Angeles corps, I got a chance to show my students just that.

A growing number of Notre Dame alumni are becoming part of Teach For America’s efforts to close the achievement gap. My time at Notre Dame has proved invaluable in shaping who I am as a scholar and a person. It has provided me a launching pad to a fulfilling and meaningful work. And now, as a Teach For America teacher, I can help a new generation of students reach for those same stars.

During my first year as a teacher, I faced many challenges in the classroom. College prepared me for some of these, but I have also had to learn as I go along. Fortunately, my summer of training and professional development with Teach For America has armed me with the tools I’ve needed to confront these challenges head-on.

As I embarked on my first year in the classroom, I knew that I wanted each of my students to set the goal of college attendance even though they were just beginning their academic career because it would drive their motivation to succeed in school throughout their education. However, many of my students did not have role models in their family or community that had graduated from college. Many members of their families hadn’t been given the opportunities that allowed them to believe that attendance at a four-year college was a realistic goal for their kids I recognized that to build the desire to go to college in my students, I would have to invest their families in that same dream. Student and family investment became my primary goal. I worked relentlessly, connecting with families and telling my students every day that yes they can do it, yes they can achieve and learn, and yes they can go to college and be successful. Before long, my Kindergarteners were saying they want to go to college, they want to be a doctor, a lawyer or the president. We worked together setting individual and classroom goals, and everything we did in class was viewed as a step toward college.

By the end of the year, it was clear that their families had the same high expectation for my students that I did. I talked with a number of parents about their college aspirations for their children. They wanted their child to have greater life opportunities than were available to them; they wanted a future for their child filled with confidence, success, and an education. Some even started a savings account for their child’s college fund. I had a picture of the Notre Dame campus in my classroom and one mom, who had started the year skeptical that college attendance was a realistic goal for her son, cried as she pointed to the picture and said, “My son can go there. I want that for him. You’re making that a reality for him.”

For too long in America, demographics and even zip codes have defined children’s destinies. Teach For America is more than just my two-year commitment to teach. It is a way for me to bring my experiences and skills to a new generation of students in low-income communities and provide them with an opportunity at something bigger and greater — and that’s how I’ll impact our children for a long time to come.


Lulu Meraz is a kindergarden treacher at Aspire Titan Academy.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.