An alternate way to spend post-grad years

When Eve Goldberg assigned her second grade class to read a book at home for homework last year, she thought it would be a simple assignment, but none of her students did it.

“A lot of my kids don’t have any books at home – no books. That was a shock,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg, who graduated from GW in 2000, teaches 19 second graders at Hardin Elementary School in New Orleans, La., as part of Teach for America, an Americorps-associated program that helps place teachers in rural and urban low income area schools for two years.

“It was a big culture shock when I got (to Hardin),” she said. “The problems at my schools at home pale by comparison here. They don’t have supplies here, not even some textbooks. It is a different world.”

Teach for America is just one of many options available to students who want to put off graduate school or jumping into their careers and do community service after graduation. Students doing Teach for America and other Americorps-sponsored programs said a year or two of service is a great way to give back to the community and help them figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

“There are not many things I could have done right out of college that would give me such responsibility and have such an impact,” Goldberg said.

Teach for America corps members must be college graduates but do not need any experience or a degree in education. Members go to a five-week training session the summer before they start teaching, during which they are instructed on different education strategies.

“We look for people who set high goals and go after them,” said Lindsay Caddel, director of recruitment support for Teach for America. “The challenges are very different for every corps member. No one will take over if it gets tough.”

Corps members are placed in schools in one of 18 sites across the country, including D.C. Teachers are hired and paid directly by the school district. Salaries range from $22,000 in the Mississippi Delta to $40,000 in California. Members rank the sites but are placed according to different schools’ needs. Last year, 90 percent were placed in preferred sites, Caddel said. Teachers also receive an Americorps education award of $4,700, which can be used to pay off past loans or can be put toward future education.

Shawn Raymond, who graduated from GW in 1994, worked for Teach for America in Ruleville, Miss., at a special education high school after graduation.

“I went in with the idea that I was going in to save these kids,” he said. “I was incredibly humbled. I learned more from the kids than I taught them.”

Raymond said he never realized the inequities across the country until he joined Teach for America.

“These kids had never seen a movie,” he said. “There was not a single girl in my class that was not a mother.”

Raymond, now an attorney in Texas, said it would have been a mistake to go straight to law school after graduation.

“There is no better education for litigation then teaching these kids,” he said. “I was a better student later on because of the real world experience.”

Boston University graduate Cassie Mapolski said she too is looking for a little real world experience before deciding what to do with the rest of her life. Mapolski, who graduated last May, is part of Americorps’ City Year, a 10-month program that focuses primarily on the education and development of youth. Mapolski is part of City Year’s Young Heroes service learning program for middle school children.

“We focus on some issues like homelessness or AIDs and teach the kids about it and then do service with them, like work in a soup kitchen,” Mapolski said.

Unlike Teach For America, City Year members apply to programs directly in the cities in which they want to live. Members are given a bi-weekly living stipend that amounts to at least $9,300 and health care benefits, along with the Americorps education award. Student loans are also deferred while in the program. City Year is open to American citizens between the ages of 17 and 24. Mapolski said one of the best aspects of City Year is that it brings together a variety of people to work together.

“I work with people from all over, from a variety of places and education levels,” Mapolski said. “It gives me a lot of exposure to different things.”

Mapolski said she was active in community service throughout college and decided to apply to City Year not only to continue her service, but also to help her decide what she wants to do with her life.

“I have a degree in bio chem,” she said. “There could be nothing less related to what I am doing now, but this is a good opportunity to take a year out of your life to do something different.”

There are some difficulties associated with the service programs. Mapolski noted it is difficult to find housing in the District with the stipend she is given.

“I don’t get a ton of money, so that makes my living situation more difficult,” said Mapolski, who lives with a group of friends.

Both Teach for America and City Year have become more competitive in the past few years. Teach for America accepted about 17 percent of its applicants last year, Caddel said. City Year accepted about 25 percent of applicants, said Ronda Thompson, deputy director of City Year.

“There has been a definite increase in applicants with the downturn in the economy,” Thompson said, “but I think September 11 has had a bigger impact. More people want to serve now.”

Also making Teach for America more popular are partnerships it has formed with many of the nation’s top law schools and corporations. Many law schools, including Georgetown and Columbia, will give special two-year deferrals to students who take part in Teach for America.

“They are realizing what a value we are,” Caddel said.

Mapolski also said taking a year to work with City Year will help her when she is looking for other employment in the future.

“It is never going to look bad on my resume that I did something like City Year,” she said.

Though both Mapolski and Goldberg said working in community service after graduation is an investment in their futures, the biggest pay off is when they see they have had an impact on the children with which they work.

“I never really realized what kind of connection I could make with a class,” Goldberg said. “When they understand something I teach it is the best feeling in the world.”

Goldberg said after she finishes her second year teaching she may apply to graduate school to work in education policy, or she said she may just keep on teaching second grade at Hardin.

As for her immediate future, ” I am teaching my kids the past tense of verbs, how to write a letter and tell time to the half hour.”

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