Educational Equity

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Teach for America Focuses on Realizing Equal Opportunities for RGV Students

Recently released research by economists studying education for gifted students in Florida revealed troubling insights into how those students were identified — and, more importantly, how a significant portion of them were not.

The research, along with the efforts of Florida education officials, was detailed in a 2015 Washington Post article. It found that most of the gifted students initially identified lived in wealthier suburbs. And until school officials determined a better way of testing all students in the district, it excluded gifted minority students who lived in poorer neighborhoods.

This kind of disparity in educational opportunities extends far beyond gifted programs in schools. And for areas like the Rio Grande Valley, where 68 percent of children live in high-poverty neighborhoods, according to a 2017 Center for Public Policy Priorities study, the idea of educational equity is a timely concern.

That’s where organizations like Teach for America come in, working to identify such problems in the community and moving toward lasting solutions.

“Children growing up in historically marginalized and disenfranchised communities lack access to a broad spectrum of resources and opportunities, and may attend schools that are not equipped to meet their extra needs or miss out on opportunities altogether,” Ana Gonzalez, executive director for the RGV branch of the organization, wrote in an email. “This disproportionately impacts children of color, who are more than two times likely to be born into poverty and who potentially bear an additional burden of low expectations.”

Teach for America was founded in 1990 with a clear objective: to expand learning opportunities to students in underserved communities. In the RGV, Teach for America works closely with school districts and other community leaders to push for the success of children throughout the area. As a result of sustained partnerships among these organizations, the Valley is seeing an improvement in measurable student outcomes.

“We are graduating more Latino students in the RGV in comparison to other regions,” Gonzalez wrote. “We are seeing more college matriculation in this region than in others. While there is more work to do, we are positioned to continue seeing great things for students and families in the Rio Grande Valley.”

More work comes in the form of Teach for America enlisting teachers to lead students in classrooms across the country. A two-year commitment from the teachers often turns into a lasting career both in schools and serving the community in impactful capacities, Gonzalez wrote. She added that Teach for America trains its teachers to go above and beyond in inspiring their students and providing the chances to learn and grow as individuals that they might have otherwise missed out on. These efforts range from offering after-school activities such as robotics or gymnastics to students, exposing them to college options through visits across the country, and bringing computer science education to schools.

“Because this is an ongoing commitment, we further address equity by supporting the individual and collective leadership, relationships, and learning of those in our network throughout their lifetime,” Gonzalez wrote. “Throughout their lives, as their careers take shape, we help alumni connect with each other and with high-impact opportunities to continue to grow and learn in pursuit of collective impact.”

Having such a strong support system is important in ensuring that teachers and organizations can rise to the challenge that educational equity presents.

“Teach For America knows that it will take many interventions from many directions over a long period of time to solve this problem,” Gonzalez wrote. “We know that Teach For America must work in partnership with our community to find these answers. We know that it takes sustained leadership from both inside the educational system and outside in order to challenge the status quo in a system that has not been working for kids and demonstrating what is possible.”

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Teach for America received a $728,000 grant in October 2017 from the OneStar Foundation to support the organization’s Texas programs — including efforts in the Rio Grande Valley. This grant is part of $14.6 million that the OneStar Foundation received in federal AmeriCorps funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service, which will be matched by an additional $37.3 million in local resources to address pressing challenges in Texas communities.

“Through the grant, we are able to better support the development of our corps members and to have a greater pool of AmeriCorps members who are looking to make a difference here and across Texas where the need for teachers is high,” Gonzalez wrote.

While the challenges of ensuring educational equity remain, Gonzalez asserts that hope is possible for lasting change for students from all backgrounds.

“Educational equity is attainable in our generation,” she wrote. “The RGV is a beacon of hope for what is possible when there is a collective focus and desire to identify challenges, hypothesize solutions, test what we know will work, and gather evidences of success. You can see this in many areas of the RGV, and I am inspired to be a part of this magical and transformational change alongside many leaders in our corps, our alumni, our team, and our Valley community.”

Learn more about Teach for America’s mission at www.teachforamerica.org