At issue | April 8 Herald-Leader article, "Non-profit to recruit 90 teachers for 3 Ky. counties"
Five years ago, in pursuit of my passion to end educational inequity between kids in poverty and their higher-income peers, I left my home state of Kentucky. After turning my tassel in Rupp Arena, I headed from Lexington to Louisiana to join Teach For America.
The 20-year-old non-profit works to close the achievement gap by recruiting high-achieving college graduates who commit two years to teach in our country's impoverished rural and urban communities.
That same summer, a Kentucky League of Cities magazine article took aim at our state's brain drain. Plugging this proverbial drain, the author said, would require Kentucky to "depend increasingly on young, educated, innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs."
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I would have loved to stay in my home state, but fulfilling my Teach For America commitment here wasn't an option five years ago, nor was it an option for the other 185 Kentuckians who have served as teachers through Teach For America since then.
I'm delighted that my work for Teach For America's mission led me back home — and I'm keeping Teach For America corps members right here in the Bluegrass State.
Recently, I was honored to join leaders from across Kentucky to launch Teach For America-Appalachia and to announce we will place 30 outstanding recent college graduates in some of our highest-need school districts beginning this fall — and at least 90 teachers in the region over the next three years.
Our Teach For America-Appalachia corps members will begin their work in classrooms a short time from now. They hail from the University of Kentucky, Centre College and other schools throughout the state — and include individuals raised in Appalachia who will return home to teach students much like themselves.
For generations, too many Kentuckians raised in the Appalachian region have been shortchanged of the life options and opportunities they deserve. A devastating achievement gap has significantly hampered our young people from breaking free from the cycle of poverty.
For the sake of our students and our state, it's time to end this injustice and put these kids on a path to reach their full potential.
Bringing Teach For America to Appalachia will deepen our hiring pool and widen our options to select the very best teachers for our state's highest-need schools. These talented, dynamic educators will work alongside state and community efforts to ensure that every student receives a top-notch education.
We've seen in other rural communities, where we've placed teachers for upwards of 20 years, that Teach For America teachers are changing the academic and life trajectories of students in many of our country's highest-need classrooms.
I am deeply optimistic this kind of impact will be replicated right here in Eastern Kentucky. Moreover, rigorous independent research shows that Teach for America teachers have a significant positive impact on student achievement.
Beyond their two-year commitment, Teach For America alumni are committed to long-term impact for students in low-income communities. More than 13,000 alumni continue to work full time in education — as teachers, principals and superintendents, leading critical change for students.
In my seventh-grade class in Baton Rouge, I experienced firsthand the success that is possible for students growing up in poverty when they are held to high expectations and given the necessary support. Indeed, closing the achievement gap in Kentucky communities hampered by generations of poverty is a daunting task. But remarkable academic success in disadvantaged communities across the country clearly show that we don't have to wait to end poverty before we solve our state's achievement gap.
Not only will bringing bright young minds to the forefront of innovation help reverse Kentucky's brain drain, but channeling that same energy and innovation against the pressing problem of the achievement gap can also help us end this injustice impacting our students. Teach For America is honored to join in this effort on behalf of Kentucky kids.