Belk Foundation Outcome #1: Increasing the number of youth who achieve on or above grade level.
Teach For America - Metro Atlanta
The Belk Foundation has supported Teach For America - Metro Atlanta for the past three years, with a total financial investment of $180,000. Teach For America is a teacher recruitment and training program that placed 9,000 new teachers last year in America’s most challenged schools.
Teach For America has an ambitious growth plan in Metro Atlanta, aspiring to grow from 400 teachers and 800 alumni to a force of 800 teachers and 1500 alumni by 2015. Recently, the Foundation interviewed our Belk Foundation Fellows, Atlanta Corps Members Melissa Beck and Jarred Gourrier.
Q: What has surprised you the most in your first year of teaching this year?
Melissa: The biggest surprise has been how solvable closing the achievement gap actually is. At the beginning of the school year, my students and I spoke frankly about the fact that they had to pass this end of course freshman math test, an urgent conversation given only 25% of them passed last year. We discussed why this pass rate was unacceptable and how we were going to change it. I also worked to re-build the academic confidence of my students by celebrating their success and acknowledging their hard work. By giving students a platform to succeed, and a taste of successful to build their confidence, I truly believe the possibilities are endless.
Melissa: This problem is solvable. The achievement gap is not a simple fix but it is solvable if you have the right combination of adults working in tandem to impact education. I’ve seen the gap close in my classroom on a micro level; however the achievement gap is much larger than the four walls of my classroom and will require the support of not only teachers but community leaders, administrators, district officials, and policy makers.
Jarred: I wish people knew that the achievement gap is a fundamental American issue and that there is more to an education to a students sitting in a classroom with a teacher. Many of my students have never left the low income communities they live in, and are unaware of the life opportunities available to them. Due to this lack of exposure, I see many families continuing in a cycle of poverty.
Q: Please share a "success story" from your classroom that has made you proud this year.
Melissa: This past spring I created a team of student leaders call the called “The Elite 8.” In exchange for a free homework pass, these hard working students spend every afternoon tutoring their peers in math. Anthony*, a bright average performing 9th grader begged me to become a tutor. Anthony dragged his friend Michael*, one of my most struggling students, to tutoring every afternoon. On our last exam, Michael, who never scored above a passing grade in math, earned a 90%. Anthony has also improved his performance in math, and has risen to be one of my top students. Michael and Anthony’s story is just one example of how by empowering students and creating a culture of achievement in a classroom, the achievement gap can be solved.
Jarred: My largest success this year has been the relationships I have been able to form with my students’ parents. Many of my parents initially questioned my ability as a first year Teach For America corps member. Early in the year a parent even remarked, "No disrespect Mr.Gourrier, this is an important year, my kid needs the best of the best and I don’t know if you are going to be that for her.” Nine months later that same parent recently pulled aside and said, "I didn't know what to expect this year, with all new teachers in 5th grade. This has been my child's best year yet. Having you as her teacher she has not only grown academically but as a person overall."
*Names of students have been changed
Over the years, The Belk Foundation has also supported the Teach For America movement in Charlotte, NC, Eastern North Carolina, and Birmingham, AL for a total financial investment of $450,000.