Students Can Change the World
Something struck me when I researched the Peace Corps and Teach for America for this story. It’s easy to be jaded all the time, to always have your cynical comment loaded. What’s more difficult is to create, to produce something for another person without pretense or any great amount of monetary compensation.
These two organizations are excellent avenues for such experience.
The Peace Corps
Most of us are well acquainted with the rebuff: ‘If you’re so concerned about the trees why don’t you go into the forest for a couple of years!’
This is the organization for people who actually will.
Currently supporting over 7,810 volunteers in 77 countries, the organization began in the 1960s, allegedly as a challenge from President John F. Kennedy for students at the University of Michigan to do something for their government.
Joining the Corps requires a process lasting for nine to 12 months entailing an application, an interview and, if nominated, medical and legal clearance followed by invitation.
‘The interview process is to ensure that the Peace Corps continue a tradition of selecting highly qualified, motivated and committed volunteers,’ stated David C. Briery, Peace Corps Los Angeles region public affairs specialist. ‘During the interview, the recruiter will want to make certain that the applicant will well-represent the Peace Corps and the United States, and be respectful of the host country and its culture.’
Involvement in the Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment entailing three months of language or specialized training followed by 24 months of duty.
Work ranges from AIDS awareness to building information technology infrastructure for developing countries. One UC Irvine alumnus is working on an agricultural project in Nicaragua.
‘They get, of course, free transportation to and from the country [and] they get all their expenses provided while they’re there,’ Briery said. ‘Say you’re a teacher in Mongolia, you get what a teacher in Mongolia makes.’
After volunteering, Peace Corps members are given a stipend of $6,075 to adjust returning to the United States.
Teach For America
‘I have a student in my class who’s a ninth-grade student, and he’s at a prekindergarten level,’ said Lauren Terrell, UCI alumna and first-semester corps member with Teach for America
Having taught for a semester at John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles, Terrell has known both distress and fulfillment.
‘Honestly, it was a struggle the first time I went there,’ Terrell stated. ‘I mean, [TFA] does everything it can to prepare you for the experience and it can give you all these statistics. … When the children are 9 years old in these areas they’re already three grade levels behind. When you fast forward to when they’re in high school, they’re seven times less likely to graduate.’
TFA looks for recent-college graduates to commit two years working in schools in low-income communities to affect chance. Initiated in 1989 as the project of a Princeton undergraduate, the program currently addresses the problems at 1,000 schools across the country with 3,500 teachers.
The program is highly competitive; Terrell cited a 17 percent acceptance rate.
Terrell stressed that the program doesn’t focus solely on aspiring teachers. Her recruitment manual included sections on aspiring lawyers, doctors, engineers and scientists.
‘We are taking people from all different academic majors,’ Terrell stated. ‘And we’re looking for people who want to go out and do other things [besides teaching].’
She confided that the experience was at times emotionally trying.
‘To actually see that is really, really … powerful. I mean, I remember going home sometimes and just crying, wishing that I could do more,’ Terrell said. ‘It’s overwhelming.’
When Terrell first arrived at Fremont High School, she had to use a walled off section of a cosmetology room for her classroom. The class had a sink, which facilitated its science-education needs, but had 25 special education students in a room designed for 12.
‘Once you go in there and see it, it’s very, very, very difficult. You don’t know where to begin, and you don’t know what you can do or how much you can do,’ Terrell said.
Although she’s only worked at her school for a semester, Terrell cited hopeful changes in her students.
‘I’ve definitely seen a lot of change, and I’d say the most rewarding and the most change I’ve seen is just in their personalities,’ Terrell said.
She stated that on some tests, her special-ed. students scored higher than general education students.
In an independent study entitled ‘The Effects of Teach For America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation,’ conducted in June 2004, Mathematics Policy Research commented on the effectiveness of TFA.
The report’s findings ‘show that the organization is making progress toward its primary mission of reducing inequities in education