Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Twenty-four Teach For America recruits prepare for the new school year

On Aug. 26, Spring Branch ISD will welcome 24 new Teach For America educators to its schools. This marks the third consecutive year that recent university graduates with this nonprofit group have joined the district’s teaching faculty.

The new Teach for America recruits include 11 elementary teachers, five middle school instructors, and eight new high school teachers. These 24 new teachers earned degrees from colleges nationwide, including familiar Texas ones like the University of Houston, Sam Houston State and Rice universities.

Many others will join the district from highly ranked national research, private and Ivy League colleges. These range from large, well-known schools including Carnegie Mellon, Boston and Columbia universities to smaller ones such as Smith and Colby colleges in the Northeast.

New Teach For America recruits include at least three SBISD high school graduates.

They are: Caroline Flowers, a 2010 Stratford High graduate who will teach integrated physics and chemistry at Northbrook High; Olivia Sher, a 2009 Memorial High graduate who will teach Algebra I at Spring Woods High; and Kerdia Kargou, a 2005 Spring Woods High graduate who will teach fifth-grade English as a Second Language (ESL) at Treasure Forest Elementary.

A former Spartan cheerleader, Caroline Flowers graduated in May from Carnegie Mellon with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in chemistry. She is glad to be finished with cold and snow in Pittsburgh, and ready to make a difference back home. Medical school remains a future goal. “I read a lot in college psychology about social inequality, and what results from that.

I decided that focusing on education and teaching is really where I wanted to be for the next two years,” she said. The Spring Branch graduate has been excited to learn with her fellow Teach For America recruits about the diversity in student, family and neighborhood demographics that reflects the district.

“The impression everyone (in Teach for America) gets is Spring Branch consists of Northbrook and Spring Woods. I’ve enjoyed telling my fellow teachers about my experiences at Stratford,” she says. Olivia Sher is pumped about teaching Algebra I to ninth-graders at Spring Woods High School. “They have not been to high school yet, so they will be open to new ideas and people,” she says.

After graduating in 2009 from Memorial High, Olivia headed off to Colby College in Waterville, Maine. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematical science with dual concentration in statistics and art history. She liked the balance of art and statistics, and remains interested in the research and epidemiology career fields.

“Since high school, I’ve always been passionate about what education can do for a person, and I am highly excited about what I can do to contribute to the lives of young people for the next two years,” Olivia says.

Spring Woods High graduate Kerdia Kargou worked as an analyst for several years with Harris County before finding Teach For America. The 2010 UH graduate is eagerly looking forward to his Treasure Forest Elementary students. Growing up, he attended Spring Shadows Elementary.

“The opportunity to pay it forward is what motivates me,” he says. “The trajectory out of being left behind and rising up out of poverty begins with education, and this is what I want to do to make an impact on this community. Spring Branch is where I grew up. Now, I want to pay it forward.”

Teach For America is a nonprofit organization that enlists high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to become lifelong advocates for equity in education for all starting with a two-year commitment to teach in low-income or underserved schools with significant gaps in student achievement.

All new TFA teachers have attended an alternative certification program and have earned certified probationary teaching certificates. Most Teach For America recruits aren’t SBISD graduates. Recent Columbia University graduate Brandon Lewis will join Spring Woods Middle School to guide social studies and world cultures instruction. The Alabama native grew up in Atlanta and made the leap to one of the nation’s best colleges because of a strong family and great schools, he says.

“An Ivy League school was an opportunity for me because I had great family and good educators while I was growing up,” he says. “I want to help connect the opportunity that I knew to the next generation of students.”

At Columbia, where Brandon earned a bachelor’s degree in urban studies, he organized and ran a nonprofit called Youth for Debate, which brought public speaking, speech and debate instruction to about 1,200 New York City middle and high school students. Indiana University graduate Bianca Dávila brings several Romance languages as well as personal teaching experiences around the world to her bilingual Treasure Forest Elementary classroom.

At Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., she earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and French along with a minor in Portuguese. She speaks four languages fluently. Through family connections, she taught English in Peru for two months in a school with no electricity. She’s also taught in France. At home, Bianca has led ESL classes for adults and assisted at a private school. “I am passionate about education,” she says. “I can easily see myself working in the classroom for some time.

Teaching makes me happy. It’s the most enriching experience I’ve ever had.” Another strong passion for Bianca has been her volunteer and intern work with Indiana-based Exodus Refugee Immigration, which works with refugees worldwide who are victims of war, persecution and injustice. She was a college intern with the nonprofit group. During the past two years, SBISD has trained and hired 26 Teach For America educators.

New teachers joining SBISD for the 2013-14 school year through the TFA program include:

Elementary Teachers
Jared Braun, The College of New Jersey, Trenton, N.J. – Terrace Elementary
Bianca Dávila, Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind. – Treasure Forest Elementary
Jasmine Gutierrez, Boston University, Boston, Mass. – Sherwood Elementary
Ifetoya Hall, University of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C. – Sherwood Elementary
Kerdia Kargou, University of Houston, Houston, Texas – Treasure Forest Elementary
Kristian Lenderman, Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas – Shadow Oaks Elementary
Andrew Long, Florida University, Gainesville, Fla. – Edgewood Elementary
Julianna Parra, Boston University, Boston – Hollibrook Elementary
Akeem Perkins, Trinity College Connecticut, Hartford, Conn. – Sherwood Elementary
Aryan Rapp, Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y. – Treasure Forest Elementary
Caterina Stegemann, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas – Shadow Oaks Elementary

Middle School Teachers
Kara Cannon, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. – Northbrook Middle
Molly Haas, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. – Landrum Middle
Ashley Holton-Westhaver, California State University – Northbrook Middle
Brandon Lewis, Columbia University, New York City – Spring Woods Middle
Daniel Lopez, Boston University, Boston, Mass. – Landrum Middle

High School Teachers
Christina Beeler, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tenn. – Northbrook High
Ryan Beeler, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Ill. – Spring Woods High
Audiel Espita, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas – Northbrook High
Caroline Flowers, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Penn. – Northbrook High
Elizabeth Huffaker, Rice University, Houston, Texas – Spring Woods High
Isabella Morana, Pennsylvania University, Philadelphia, Penn. – Spring Woods High
Olivia Sher, Colby College, Waterville, Maine – Spring Woods High
Miranda Szucs, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio – Northbrook High


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