Teachers aim at needs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 19, 2001


PHOTO: KEEPING THEM INTERESTED, Ashli Baker, a first-grade special education teacher at Garyville/Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School, gets her small class to respond to their lesson. As a second-year Teach For America corps member, Baker, is working to better the education of students with special needs. (Staff Photo by Amy Szpara) GARYVILLE – Over muffins and coffee, Teach For America representatives joined business leaders and parish officials in the Garyville/Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School library recently to discuss their program’s progress in St. John the Baptist Parish. A morning of educating community leaders on the success of the program and the benefits of it in their area included watching a video which explained Teach For America and introduced some of its members. Afterward, Teach For America executive director Jason Finney led a question and answer session. Then, program coordinators led the groups to classrooms where they observed the teachers in action. Teach For America is an organization which strives to bring better education to children who might otherwise get left behind. It is a national corps of recent college graduates in various academic majors who have committed two years to teach in areas where resources are limited. “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education” is the motto of Teach For America and best explains the goal of the program. Teach For America picks corps members who are the “best of the best,” having graduated at the top of their classes and shown outstanding achievement. In St. John Parish, the corps members have been placed in special education classes, where there is a serious shortage of teachers. “Our kids in special education are getting a dynamite education,” said Superintendent-elect Michael Coburn at the breakfast. With 102 teachers in the greater New Orleans area, which includes St. John, Finney said they hope to get even more members in the area. According to Finney, they only choose the best and the brightest. Out of 4,900 applications nationwide, he said that only 2,000 volunteers were chosen. “We want the best,” he said. “And we are definitely committed to staying in St. John Parish.” In New Orleans, there were 800 vacancies last year, and Teach For America was able to place 80 teachers in those vacancies. “But what about the kids who are in the classes where they have a substitute for a long period of time or in those classes that are overflowed?” Finney asked. That is why they are striving to get more teachers in the area. Corps members are paid like first-year teachers. The money raised by Teach For America goes to recruitment, support, training and placement. It costs $6,000 per corps member, and financial support comes from national funding and donations. Louisiana is the first state to give state funding to the program, providing a total of $300,000. Now in 15 regions across the country, including two in Louisiana (Baton Rouge and greater New Orleans), Teach For America hopes to expand the program to 23 regions soon.