Teaching with impact

GW graduate Alexandra Pardo always thought she would go to law school after graduation. But she had always known she would teach at some point in her life, if only for a few years.

“In high school, my psychology teacher told me to come back and take her to dinner when I became a teacher,” she said. “I just laughed, but sure enough she was right.”

Pardo applied for the Teach for America program last October. She said she was doing a search on the internet and came across it by accident. She requested more information and became interested in the program and what it had to offer. She was one of five women from GW accepted for Teach placement in August 2002.

The 12-year-old program accepts recent college graduates for two years to teach in urban and rural public schools. Teach members work with students who live in low-income communities to help narrow the achievement gap between them. It offers programs in 17 cities nationwide, including Baltimore and D.C.

Wendy Kopp proposed the idea of Teach for America in her undergraduate senior thesis at Princeton University in 1989. The Mobil Oil Corporation liked her idea and donated a $26,000 grant to start the program. The program accepted applications one year later, receiving 2,500 applicants from the onset.

The program has received the support of many, including Ross Perot, Laura Bush and Bill Clinton.

An open house will be held Feb. 11 in Marvin Center room 309 from 6-8 p.m for students to learn more about opportunities. The application deadline is Feb. 12. More information about requirements and financial information can be found on the Web site, Teachforamerica.org.
Pardo said she was always interested in education and its role in politics and wants to work with education policy.

“I often get frustrated when politicians at the federal as well as the local level write education policy and have never stepped into a classroom,” she said. “More often than not, they don’t know what urban schools are like. I feel that I could not (work on education policy) without stepping into the classroom first and touching the classroom.”

Pardo interviewed for the program in December and was accepted two weeks later. The second week in January, she found out she would be placed in D.C. elementary schools.

“I grew up in New Jersey, so I had also put that as one of my top choices,” Pardo said. “But I am happy in D.C. It allows me to stay in my current apartment and avoid the hassle of moving again.”

At the moment, Pardo is studying for her PRAXIS exams, exams all teachers in the District take before they can teach in a classroom. She will attend classes at the Teach Summer Institute in New York in June and will eventually teach summer school there. At the end of August, Pardo will come back to D.C. to begin teaching.

Pardo said she is grateful for the opportunity she will have as a part of Teach.

“Teach places enthusiastic and passionate people in the schools where no one else wants to teach,” she said. “However, it is those schools that need teachers the most.”

From her experience, Pardo said, people who don’t know much about education are the ones shaping education policy. Politicians, instead of experienced educational professionals, often take the role of writing policy, she said.

“In my home town, our mayor owned an ice cream shop,” she said.
“Granted, he may be a great businessman, but education is not about business. It’s about kids. But when it comes time to vote on the school budget, kids are often the last concern. Teachers are forced to teach in circumstances that do not allow for the full enrichment of the pupils.”

Senior Jennifer Taylor was accepted to the Teach program this year and will teach in D.C. elementary schools. She said she wanted to stay on the East Coast, and her other choices were Baltimore and Atlanta.

Taylor, the program’s campaign coordinator at GW, first heard about Teach when she was a freshman tutoring at an elementary school in Adams Morgan. Her supervisor had participated in the program.

Taylor said since she began promoting the program it has become more enticing to her.

“Everyone who had done it said it was a great life accomplishment,” Taylor said. “It sounded like a great opportunity as opposed to graduating and joining the workforce right away.”

Taylor said she is interested in education public policy, and the experience at Teach will help her see what hands-on education is like. She said she hopes the experience at Teach will be character building and will teach her how to be out in the real world and develop her characteristics as a leader.

“I’ll learn how to manage people,” she said. “Managing eight-year-olds is pretty strenuous.”

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