Teach for America increases efforts at UNL

By Amanda Woita, News Net Nebraska

Editors note: Amanda Woita is a Teach for America applicant and is waiting to hear if she was accepted. 

The number of Nebraska students trying to help close the achievement gap in poor schools through Teach for America has tripled this year.

Teach for America is a program that recruits college graduates to teach in low-income schools for two years. The program focuses on closing the education gap between students who grow up in poverty and students who don’t.

Graduates don’t have to be education majors to apply. The idea is that once the corps members’ two years are up, they will go on to make policy changes in their field of study to benefit the children in those low-income classrooms.

Sadie Stockdale, Teach for America’s manager of recruitment at the University of Nebraska, Iowa Grinnell and Oklahoma State University, said she couldn’t disclose the exact number of students who have been accepted from Nebraska. However, Stockdale said both the number of students who have applied and the number of students who have been accepted into the program have more than tripled.

This increase in numbers comes from an increase in recruitment in the Nebraska region. This includes hiring two campus campaign coordinators, who are also students at UNL, to raise awareness of Teach for America and their mission.

“Nebraska has very strong leaders who normally wouldn’t have thought about bringing their efforts into the classrooms,” Stockdale said.

Ashley Haug, a campus coordinator and senior business administration major, said she and the other coordinator spoke to classes and recognized student organizations about Teach for America.

“When I started talking to kids about actual problems [in education], they became passionate,” Haug said.

Haug said she and the other coordinator had one-on-one meetings with potential applicants, hung up posters and held a screening of “Waiting for Superman” followed by a Q&A session to inform the public about the problems in education.

“People in Nebraska are so naïve about it,” Haug said. “They hear about education inequality but they don’t know much about it. Through Teach for America, they can learn the facts.”

Haug added that knowing the statistics Teach for America is trying to change helps open people’s eyes to the problems low-income children face. For instance, only eight out of 100 students who grow up in poverty graduate college by the age of 24.

“That number hit so much deeper than a phrase,” Haug said.

Teach for America is also providing more opportunities for undergraduates to apply for their internships, according to Stockdale. She also added that Teach for America is creating a junior program to help younger students who are interested in applying to the corps.

The application process for Teach for America is a long one. There are several chances for students to apply throughout the year. Within each of these deadlines, students have to fill out an application, participate in an online activity and participate in a phone interview before making it on to the final, in-person interview.

For the final interview, the applicants are required to give a sample class lesson to the other interviewees and the interviewers. This section is reminiscent of speech class or a speech competition as everyone listens to each other’s lesson. Then, the applicants are split into groups to work on an activity together before the one-on-one interviews take place.

Haug, who has been accepted to teach for Teach for America, said she never thought about teaching until she became the campus coordinator. And even though Haug is involved in several activities – including cheerleading, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Chi Omega sorority and Court Appointed Special Advocates, among others – she said this process has been challenging. She said she researched the program and filled out numerous forms for numerous deadlines to take part in the corps.

“You’re doing a big girl job,” Haug said. “It’s not just an activity anymore. These kids aren’t being treated fairly.”

Applicants for this year’s final deadline will hear if they have been accepted or not on April 18. And Stockdale and the campus coordinators will know if they have reached their recruitment goals.

“I think that students in Nebraska have incredible leadership and are very civic-minded,” Stockdale said, “and that’s very unique.”

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