The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

September 13, 2013

Teach for America teachers give county students different perspective

By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER

TARBORO — Students in Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) are learning about the world beyond their local community this school year, through the perspective of 10 Teach for America (TFA) instructors who hail from Florida to Minnesota.

“TFA Corps members are very successful new teachers. I think they bring energy and excitement to school settings,” said Superintendent John Farrelly. “We feel like they can make a difference.”

TFA is an organization that recruits recent outstanding college graduates to teach in classrooms in low-income communities throughout the country. ECPS has 10 TFA instructors in various schools this school year.

“It’s my hope that I can just give my students every opportunity that they deserve,” said Jacey MacDonald, an eighth-grade English/ social studies teacher at Martin Middle School. “I do not believe that race or socioeconomic status should be predictors of student success.”

Jane Cha, a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Princeville Elementary School, has seen firsthand the disparity in educational opportunities between students living in impoverished communities and those living in higher socioeconomic areas.

“I wanted to join TFA because I originally went to a Title I school myself,” Cha said. A Title I school is one where more than 40 percent of the students are at the poverty level.

She later attended school in a more affluent neighboring county and had trouble keeping up with the other students.

“I kind of saw the inequity in that,” Cha said. “I thought that I could make a difference…I’m learning now that they (the students) are making more of a change in me.”

Cha is originally from a small town in Maryland with a large Asian community. She now teaches in a school that is predominantly African-American.

“For most of them, this is their first time being in contact with an Asian person,” Cha said. “They look at me and say, ‘You’re Chinese, right?’ I say, ‘No, I’m Korean.’”

Cha’s students are absorbing bits and pieces of Cha’s cultural background.

“She taught us some Korean words, ‘Ahn Nyung Ha Sae Yo,’ ‘Hello my friend,’” said Damia Holley.

Cha has also explained to her students what it means to be American, regardless of ethnicity.

Despite their differences, Cha assures her students that they are all on the same team.

“In this classroom, I’m the coach and you’re the team,” Cha says. “We’re playing to win and everyone has to be on it and everyone has a job.”

Along those lines, a student picks a topic out of the “coach jar” every day and has to speak on  that topic for one minute. The idea is to improve the students’ public communication skills.

Students in MacDonald’s social studies class are learning about different cultures, as well. MacDonald takes her students on “virtual tours” of different locales, such as Germany, where she was a foreign exchange student for a year, and teaches them about ancient civilizations.

“We learned about the Aztecs, how they used to build sand houses,” said Kaloni Borno.

Martin Carney said he had learned about the ways the Aztecs hunted for food.

“I think it’s interesting how they used to survive in B.C. times,” Carney said.

“It’s very unique how she (MacDonald) teaches,” Carney added. “She does things to get our mind flowing.”

MacDonald aims to introduce her students to “lots of new experiences and different ways of life.”

For MacDonald, who hails from Minneapolis, living in Tarboro is a new experience.

“It’s a different way of life down here,” she said. “Everyone says ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am.’”

While working in Edgecombe County has been an “eye-opening” experience to Cha and a change in pace for MacDonald, Tarboro reminds TFA Jared Hiers of his hometown – Bristol, Fla. Hiers, a May 2013 graduate of Florida State University, teaches seventh-grade math and science at Martin Middle.

“I’m originally from a small Title I School,” Hiers said. “I didn’t think there was anything more rewarding to do after college to go into a community sort of like mine and work with kids.”

Hiers always dreamed of leaving his small hometown and wants his students to know that the world awaits them, as well.

“I want to be that motivational force behind a student. It’s my expectation that not only will all my students graduate from college but will go on after that,” he said.

Regardless of the obstacles that may face, Hiers said his students demonstrate a “willingness to learn,” as they did Thursday afternoon in a math-themed Jeopardy game, which promoted “friendly competition.”

Other TFA teachers in ECPS this school year are Elizabeth Cherba, Rebecca Miller and Christine Records, all at G.W. Bulluck Elementary, Rachel Coots and Quinnisa Doles, both at Coker-Wimberly, Courtney Staley, at Stocks, Suzie Elliot-Bearce, and Beth Rudoy, at Martin Middle.