UI to increase number of Teach for America applicants


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After graduation, a few University of Iowa students choose to go back to grade school.

Teach for America , a national teaching program aimed at placing recent graduates in low-income classrooms across the country, is actively seeking to increase the UI applicant pool.

The number of UI alumni working for Teach For America has decreased from 21 in 2010 to 12 in 2011, said Lora Knapp, the Teach For America recruitment manager at the UI. And while typically approximately 50 UI seniors apply, this year, she said, she hopes the number jumps to 150 this year.

Other schools have outpaced the UI in terms of involvement in the program.

According to the Teach for America website, more than 15 percent of the graduating class from Spelman College, Harvard University, and Duke University have applied.

"Ultimately, the University of Iowa has low awareness of Teach for America," Knapp said. "We're trying to raise awareness for students. We're working to close the educational achievement gap. The University of Iowa offers great high achieving leaders."

UI student Briana Byrd, the campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America, said recruiting at the UI has been difficult because not enough students know about the program.

"One of the reasons we're really trying to focus are efforts is because we really want to let students know how much of a difference they can make in the lives of millions of children across the country," she said.

Byrd said the program will have an early October event to inform current UI students about the program. Students will be able to talk with Marian Fukuyama, a UI alumna and current Teach for America Corps member, about her experience teaching in St. Louis.

"It is very shocking how much educational inequality there is across the country," she said. "I think it's heartbreaking that I have students 16 and 17 years old who can't read. I hope people are realizing how fortunate we are. There are children across the country who have not had the opportunities that we have had."

And, Knapp said, the UI is looking for similarly involved students, of any major, to apply.

"Over the years, Teach For America has seen that motivated individuals with strong leadership and academic achievement are capable of successfully translating their leadership abilities to the classroom," she wrote in an email.

Those accepted to the program can expect an intensive five-week training program the summer before they begin teaching and placement in one of 43 regions that use corps members.

Many corps members' continue their outreach after they've completed the program.

"Teach For America is a great steppingstone," Byrd said. "It really influences corps members in terms of social justice and making a difference."

And in her classroom this year, Fukuyama said, making the difference has been challenging but rewarding.

"I know that I wake up because I want to be there for my students," she said. "For these students, they've gone all these years without having high expectations … My big vision for my classroom is that all of my students become critical thinkers, passionate readers and writers, and effective communicators."

Knapp emphasized that Teach For America classrooms provide crucial opportunities for students to achieve.

"We set high expectations for our students and provide them with the support and resources they need to meet those expectations … The education opportunities that we provide for our students change the trajectory of their life outcomes."

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