The Union Recorder

March 13, 2013

GC students hope to reform education in low-performing communities

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Georgia College senior Audrey Smith’s belief in the ‘American dream’ has inspired her to help young citizens realize that dream through the power of education. After graduating in May as a double major in political science and Spanish, Smith will provide education and learning resources to a low-performing school for the next two years as a corps member for the Teach For America (TFA) organization.

“My motivation for applying to the organization is not because I want to go into education. I believe in the ‘American dream,’ and that really comes from my political science studies. I think as a society of Americans, we’re hypocrites,” she said. “We say this is a land of hope and opportunity for new life, but in order to take advantage of that opportunity, society says we have to have a great education. We’re opening doors to immigrants from all across the world, but we’re not being truthful of that hope; we have to be fair. My motivation in applying and joining the TFA movement is because I do believe in keeping the dream alive.”

TFA’s mission is to close the achievement gap between low-income children and their wealthier peers. By developing committed leaders and placing them in classrooms across the nation, the organization works toward eliminating education inequality. TFA recruits recent college graduates and professionals of all backgrounds to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools. In the 2012-13 school year, more than 10,000 corps members are teaching 750,000 students.

Twenty-one year-old Stephen Hundley is also preparing for his TFA experience after he passed the rigorous application process. He will graduate in May from Georgia College as a English literature major.

“My final interview was in November and I was nervous about it. It’s a really competitive program, but really rewarding. You can tell [TFA] works so hard; the minute you’re on board, the support starts,” he said. “There are locations all across the country and you give them preferences of where and what you would like to teach.”

Hundley is the editor for the university’s non-fiction literary journal “The Peacock’s Feet,” president of Georgia College’s Omicron Delta Kappa Society, vice president of Student Government Association, and a member of the Student Ambassador team.

He will teach high-school age youth in Charlotte, N.C. come August after completing TFA institute, or training, in Tulsa, Okla.

“I’m very excited to be in a new place with new challenges. I’ve been told teaching is very hard and I’m looking forward to the challenge and change of pace. This is a mission I care about and it’s the best thing I can do to help with something I’m passionate about. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” he said. “I’m interested to see how I mesh with the education system and if it’s something I want to pursue. I don’t know if I’ll go back to academia and continue with my English roots, or travel through education by going to an international school in Japan. At this point, I’m taking one step at a time. I’m just excited and thankful for this opportunity.” 

Smith will travel to New York City in June and spend two months acquiring essential knowledge and skills to become an educator who can make a positive impact in a low-income community while working with high-risk students.

“I’ll learn and understand the demographics of the students I’ll be working with through TFA Institute and really become immersed in the TFA mission and vision so I can take that into the school to instill that feeling of positive reform within my students and the rest of the school staff,” she said. “TFA is still in the process of letting me know which school and grade I’ll be teaching specifically, but it will be with students who have an unfortunate economic status and don’t have the opportunity of knowing why a great education is important to be successful in life. I’m going to try to make a difference in these kids lives.”

Smith is president of Sigma Alpha Omega, president of the Political Science Honor Society, serves on the executive board for the American Red Cross, and is a member of the Spanish Honor Society, Spanish Club and Georgia Education Mentorship program.

She will begin teaching in August and commit two years to TFA’s mission.

“I think a lot of corps members don’t know how two years is going to affect them, but it has a great impact in their lives and a lot of them end up staying with TFA. I’m absolutely open to staying in the classroom for longer than two years if I feel I’m able to make a difference,” Smith said. “I’m not going to Georgia College to study education, so when you put me in a room with kindergartners, there’s definitely a learning curve. Through my leadership trial and error experiences at Georgia College, I don’t feel limited in any way and I have a large perspective of the world. I’m looking forward to this new challenge.”

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