Teach for America started as a grassroots recruitment campaign of 500 people committed to teaching for two years in public schools. Seventeen years later, the program has a network of 17,000 alumni and corps members, and GW is among the universities sustaining its future.
GW produced the fifth-highest number of applicants for the program this year, and representatives from Teach for America were on campus throughout last week to encourage even more students to apply to the program.
“I think there’s just more of a general call to service among GW seniors,” said Thomas Clark, recruitment director for Teach for America. “I think people are looking for a way to have an incredible experience.”
Clark said last year Teach for America received a total of 84 applicants from GW for all four deadlines, 22 of whom were accepted into the program. This year, the organization has received 50 applications for the first deadline, which normally brings in the lowest number of applicants. Clark said they were hoping to accept 33 GW students this year.
During one of Teach for America’s events Wednesday, alumni from the program discussed their personal experiences with teaching students in low-income communities.
“It was incredibly challenging but in the best possible way,” said Monique Ayotte-Hoeltzel, vice president of admissions for the program and a 1997 GW alumnus.
Participants in the program teach in inner-city and rural schools in one of 26 regions across the country.
The importance of this service to low-income communities resonated with Gina Cappelletti, a graduate student in the audience.
“I feel a social responsibility to serve in my community,” she said.
Panel members also talked about the value of Teach for America in preparing for professional life. Many of the program’s alumni have gone on to hold top-ranking positions in business and government.
“Nothing has helped my legal career more than Teach for America,” said Craig Lee, a federal prosecutor for the Department of Justice. “I’m better able to adapt.”
For some students in the audience, the combination of professional and personal growth was what attracted them to the program.
“I want to go into the real world with the confidence that I’m doing what I want to do with the best of my abilities, like these folks,” said Sam Buchbinder, a senior majoring in political communication who has already sent in his application.
Panelists said students studying international affairs should not rule out the program because of its focus at home. Laura Wilson, a former policy advisor to the State Department, said she studied international poverty in college,but did not understand the scope of poverty here at home until her time with Teach for America.
“You can’t just think of it as a museum with objects to look at,” she said. “You have to try and live and breathe it.”