MACON – Five upcoming graduates from Mercer University have accepted the challenge of Teach For America, the highly selective program that places graduates from the country’s best colleges in low-income schools. The group joins a growing list of Mercer alumni who have served in the program, which provides training, ongoing support, mentoring and grants to participants. All five will graduate on May 12 from the College of Liberal Arts. The students are: Sarah Brown, Josh Coleman, Christina Kivi, Katie Matthews and Kyle Shook.
“Teach for America has become one of the most important reform movements in public education,” said Dr. Peter C. Brown, director of Mercer’s Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships. “The best and brightest graduates across the country are vying to be part of this experiment. Fewer than 10 percent of applicants are accepted. Thus, we are tremendously proud of the quality of Mercer students selected for Teach For America this year. We are even more proud of their passion to help disadvantaged children and youth overcome poverty as a barrier to high educational achievement.”
Each graduate will travel to a different state for his or her placement. All five said they are looking forward to the challenge and the satisfaction of helping bridge the achievement gap between high- and low-income students.
“I’m doing Teach For America because I wanted a chance to do something to close the achievement gap – to work for civil rights,” said Shook. “I wanted to be engaged at the ground level in bridging that gap. The disparity between what we spend on students in wealthier school districts and what we spend on students in poorer districts is often overlooked, but I believe it is the civil rights issue of our time.”
Shook, from Gainesville, is a double major in English and Women’s and Gender Studies. He will be leaving for New York City to teach. Shook said he is still undecided on a career, but he hopes it will involve education, particularly with regard to promoting the arts in the face of increasing pressure from standardized testing and budget challenges that threaten such programs.
Brown, a political science major from Stockbridge, will teach secondary social studies next year in Alabama, but is awaiting word on her final placement. Though she doesn’t plan to pursue a career in teaching after Teach For America, she said she wants to work to make a difference while she is in the program, and after. She has been on three Mercer On Mission trips, and, each time, she said, she was struck by the role education played in the poverty of the regions she visited. Brown said she hopes to make a difference in the lives of her students on the way to theology school – and a career in mission work – after her placement.
Coleman, of Guyton, is a double major in English and French and will be placed in Charlotte, N.C., teaching high school English. He will also work toward a Master of Arts in Teaching, with a specialization in secondary English, at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Coleman said he hopes to study comparative literature and become a professor after he completes his assignment.
Kivi, an art major who is originally from Albuquerque, N.M., will be placed in South Carolina. She said she will likely stay in education, perhaps becoming a principal. Teach For America is the perfect tool to help her decide if that is indeed the career she wants to pursue.
Matthews, of Thomaston, is a communication and media studies major and will be placed near Baton Rouge, La., likely in special education. She’ll be attending Louisiana State University, working on speech/language pathology, which she hopes will be her career following her teaching stent. For the next two years, though, she said she’s excited to take on her assignment.
“I think we all know going in that it’s going to be a challenge, but I think we can all agree that we want to make a difference in the world, to be challenged and to rise to that challenge,” Matthews said.