New Teach For America educators focus on a new school year in Spring Branch ISD.
TFA is a nonprofit organization that recruits recent college graduates to teach for at least two years in school communities nationwide. The group was formed around a goal of improving the academic performance and college-going opportunities of all students who reside in families with lower than average incomes.
This year’s new TFA teachers in SBISD include:
- Jared Dawson, Spring Oaks Middle, 6th grade mathematics
- Breyanna Dennis, Spring Oaks Middle, 7th grade English language arts (ELA)
- Madeline Farnham, Spring Oaks Middle, 8th grade English language arts (ELA)
- Nicole Gomez, Spring Woods High, 10th grade English language arts (ELA)
- Madelyn Marrs, Treasure Forest Elementary, 1st and 2nd grades
- Nicole Ortega, Woodview Elementary, 4th grade English language arts (ELA)/social studies
- Victoria Ponse, Spring Oaks Middle, 6th grade English language arts (ELA)
- Gabrielle Rowand, Spring Oaks Middle, 8th grade social studies
- Kenneth Rutherford Jr., Spring Oaks Middle, 6th grade mathematics
- Suzan Slavsky, Spring Branch Elementary, kindergarten
- Hannah Waldman, Woodview Elementary, 5th grade social studies/writing
Gabrielle Rowand, Spring Oaks Middle School
Rowand grew up in an economically disadvantaged area of the Appalachias. Her mom, the first in her family to attend college, taught math in a Title 1 low-income school. Her mom’s classroom wasn’t a selling point.
“I saw that as an example and, to be frank, as an example of the hardest job I had ever seen. I went off to [college] thinking that I never wanted to teach in the public school system because it seemed so exhaustingly hard,” she recalls frankly.
In graduate school, she planned for a research career, but found it unrewarding at a personal level. Sitting in a room with manuscripts and files wasn’t enough, and she spent a recent summer teaching reading intervention to underprivileged students in Boston.
“I found that I felt more myself working with students who had never had success with a book before than I did in any late night in the research archives,” she states.
Rowand credits TFA for her new calling, saying it’s an “awesome organization that takes people like me – people who discovered late in the game that the most meaningful way to make a difference is in direct work with educating and empowering kids – and then helps them enter into that field.”
For her, SBISD Convocation was both “incredible” and “amazing.” Both district and school commitment here have impressed her, too.
“I have been blown away in my short time so far in SBISD by the willingness of all the staff, faculty and community to try anything in the interest of serving kids. This is the most supportive and innovative district I have ever seen, and having gone through five different school districts growing up, I can honestly say that I wish I had been educated through this one,” Rowand said.
She is excited to teach eighth-grade U.S. history during an unusual election year, and believes that this election provides a way to connect the past and present in a relatable way. She hopes her students feel safe to ask questions and really expand their thinking inside her class.
“By the end of the school year, I want my students to be ready for high school, and to have solid critical thinking and historical reading skills that they will be able to apply to all their studies moving forward, as well as to their daily lives,” she said.
Kenneth Rutherford Jr., Spring Oaks Middle School
Before joining TFA, Rutherford worked as an algebra 1 tutor in the former Apollo 20 program in Houston ISD’s Lee High School. The Apollo program tried to close gaps in education for students, many of whom are economically disadvantaged. So when TFA came to Lee High to recruit, he felt comfortable with its similar goals.
“I have the new teacher jitters, but I am committed to giving my students the best education possible within my abilities, he said. He did not know very much about SBISD, but Convocation and Mrs. Freifeld at Spring Oaks Middle has turned him into a believer.
“To understand the commitment that [SBISD] is making to bridging the education gap through innovation and the level of talent that is produced in the district made me feel that I was meant to be here,” Rutherford said.
He hopes to inspire his students to overcome any disappointment or anxieties math may present, and build confidence in their abilities.
“It is my goal to inspire my sixth- and seventh-grade lab students to grow in their math skills to the extent that they might transition to some of the Pre-AP classes,” he said.