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06 November 2009 

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Wendy Kopp's Mission: Ensure Educational Opportunity for All Students


06 November 2009

At Teach for America's New York City headquarters, it doesn't take very long for the visitor to pick up on the sense of dedication and optimism among the 400-plus staff members who work there.
Wendy Kopp's idea has grown to become one of the nation's largest providers of teachers for low-income communities
Wendy Kopp's idea has grown to become one of the nation's largest providers of teachers for low-income communities
Since 1990, the group has recruited and trained nearly 25,000 college graduates to teach in low-income schools throughout the United States.

Their energy may be drawn, in part, from Wendy Kopp, the non-profit organization's founder and guiding light. "We believe that education is the great enabler [and that] it's the foundation for life opportunity," says Kopp, who brings a sense of tireless urgency and focus to Teach for America's mission.

"From my vantage point, we're working to enable our country to live up to its ideals… of ensuring that all of our kids have the chance at the American Dream."

Privileged beginnings and wakeup calls

Teach For America teacher Jovan Moore works with students in a science lab in Philadelphia
Teach For America teacher Jovan Moore works with students in a science lab in Philadelphia
Born in 1965, and raised in a comfortable white middle class neighborhood in Dallas, Texas, Kopp herself had ample opportunity to realize the American Dream. She excelled in school and knew few young people who didn't have her advantages. In 1985, Kopp entered prestigious Princeton University, where she became a public policy major. She was assigned a dormitory room with a bright young woman who grew up in the South Bronx, one of New York's poorest and most disadvantaged school districts. She was moved by how hard her roommate had to work to keep up with her more privileged peers.

"Getting to know her was my first window into the fact that our country really doesn't provide all of its kids with an excellent education," Kopp recalls. That experience led her to learn more about the issue and be increasingly concerned about it.  
      
Still, Kopp was unsure what her personal career path would be. A wakeup call occurred in the course of a summer job in Saint Louis, Missouri, just before her senior year at Princeton.

She was in the posh high-rise office of a businessman philanthropist, trying to sell him advertising space in a student magazine. Kopp says the man swiveled in his chair, pointed out the window in the direction of the city's sizable black ghetto, and told her he would not support her magazine because he could have more impact helping poor inner city kids with few or no educational opportunities.

Chris Guetis is teaching in a largely Hispanic school in Los Angeles
Chris Guetis is teaching in a largely Hispanic school in Los Angeles
"It led to a crisis of conscience in my mind," says Kopp, who felt a deep yearning for a 'higher calling.' "And, at the same time, I felt like our generation was searching for… a way to make a real difference in the world."

The cultural myth was that her peers, whom the media had labeled 'the Me Generation,' cared only about money. Kopp thought the label was inaccurate. "It wasn't that that was what we wanted. It was that [corporations] were the only [job] recruiters! So that was the initial inspiration for Teach for America."

Teach for America: from vision to reality

For her senior thesis, Kopp wrote a detailed plan for an organization that would recruit the most talented young leaders among graduating college students and young professionals from many disciplines. It would train them to serve in America's most underserved schools, not only as teachers, but as the foot soldiers in a new national movement to ensure that every American child had access to an excellent education.

The goal of Teach For America is for its corps members not only to make a short-term impact on their students, but also to become lifelong leaders in pursuing educational equality<br />
The goal of Teach For America is for its corps members not only to make a short-term impact on their students, but also to become lifelong leaders in pursuing educational equality
When Kopp graduated, she turned that thesis into a successful funding proposal, and the next year, 1990, she was in an auditorium welcoming the 489 young people who comprised the first crop of Teach for America recruits.

In her 2001 book, One Day All Children: the Unlikely Triumph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way, she recounts that the journey since then has been both bumpy and gratifying.

Last year the organization had 35,000 applicants, 7300 of whom are currently serving in the field. The admissions process is extensive. "We are looking for people who persevere in the face of challenges, who can influence and motivate others, who are strong problem solvers, and who are deeply committed to this mission."

Personal and social transformations

Teach for America corps members often experience a transformation when they realize that no matter how smart and ambitious they are, they must make their work about the pupils' success, not their own.
Teach for America teacher Breanne Davis looks over a paper with her student at a school in Los Angeles
Teach for America teacher Breanne Davis looks over a paper with her student at a school in Los Angeles
That's why, according to Kopp, all corps members must combine honesty and hard work with concrete goals.

She recalls one corps member who had been assigned to teach a 7th grade class in an impoverished school in rural Louisiana. When she learned that most students were doing math only at the 4th grade level, she immediately set up an individual meeting for every one of her 120 students and their parents, and leveled with them. "'Clearly, you just have not been given the opportunity you deserve,'" Kopp quotes the young teacher as having said. "'But if you work with me, you'll make three years progress in a year's time, and that will fundamentally change your trajectory as a student and your potential thereafter.'"

Kopp reports the kids worked incredibly hard, coming to school early, leaving late and working on weekends. At the end of the year, the class had succeeded. "You want kids to be on a mission. And kids want to be on a mission!" Kopp says with evident glee.

Wendy Kopp's mission continues. Nearly two-thirds of Teach for America corps members continue in the education field after completing their two-year commitments. Over 400 TFA alumni are now school principals, and several are district superintendents. In fact, Washington DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee is a Teach for American veteran. Kopp predicts that by the year 2015, there will be 50,000 alumni.

An offshoot organization, called "Teach for All," is already working to introduce the Teach for America model in India, Australia and in countries across Latin America and Europe.



Comments:

1. we need assistance fund for east africa

we are tanzanian also we need join the world
Submitted by: ndimgwanko sabas mkonya (tanzania east africa)
11-09-2009 - 10:15:03

2. Wendy Kopp's Mission

I am 70 years old Japanese man. I think it is very good thing that Wendy Kopp's idea grown to become one of the nations' largist providers of teachers for low -income communities. I have been participating in MOA International. at Tokyo Ryoin(hospital) I work to treat the patiants as Purifying Therapist sometimes. Of course volunteer. I think now each person must contribute to help others by the personal abilyty and thought. I think it is very splendid things that you have been doing.
Submitted by: keiichi kamekura (Japan)
11-09-2009 - 06:22:56

3. Charter vs Public School

According to the No Child Left Behind law, minority and Special Needs students should not be treated as diposable educational trash. That's the case in the Chater vs public School controversy. Gentrifiction in New york City , primarily in Harlem , seems to be the bastion of educational injustice. Caucasian move into a black neighbohood but do not accept the fact that their children t be part of the existing neighbohood school, so they create a charter school. To show diversity, they recruit the best students and deprive the school of its academic balance. In the process, these schools are faced with low registration and budget cuts. The charter schools increase their student population in order to push away the struggling schools. The Dept of Education is involved in a "systemic destruction" of children. These children are left without a voice. What a shame!!! this is the new kind of racism promoted by the mayor of New York, the billionnaire: Michael Bloomberg.
Submitted by: Florence Hector (USA)
11-07-2009 - 20:05:05

4. How can I get a Education?

Hello there to u all, Well I been try and asking people around the world for Education opportunity but impossible for me,the peoblem is I am a poor Refugee without parent and no helper.I am just a 9grde student and I been out of school over 6yrs now cuz of my poor condition.so I am stll looking for help to contiune my school.my contact is. nentorstrother@yahoo.com or call +225-45902729 my full name is SAM SAYEAH THANKS GOD BLESS
Submitted by: SAM SAYEAH (Liberia but presently liveing in Ivory Coast)
11-07-2009 - 12:03:07

5. I was affected

I just want to say that I have bee deprived from getting a scholarship to presume master degree in America just because I'm over 26 years old by one year older only and my GPA is lower than the 3.5 of 5 is not it sounds unfair to deprive me such an opportunity of growth and learning while I'm still young and eager to learn and grow. MOreover there are 0 opportunity for me and for millons like me in my country who want to get new chance to move forwared but they get always rejected every where though they have unversity degree BA and no job ?? I just wanted to transfer an image of deprivation from geting education and opportunity to grow as I was affected when I read the story of this brave woman who would save no effort for those deprived people. Thank you for this article I know my story is irrelevant to yours you can not post it.
Submitted by: Sarah (KSA)
11-07-2009 - 01:50:18

 
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