February 16, 2006 | Myrna Anderson
Two Calvin seniors have been accepted to join the elite cadre of students recruited by Teach for America to teach for two years in classrooms in the urban and rural U.S.
Following their May graduations, Teressa Ribbens and Matt Bloem will join the 3,500 Teach for America corps members teaching in 1,000 schools in 22 regions of the country.
“This is a corps of outstanding, outstanding students,” says Emily Abeles, a recruitment fellow at Teach for America.
She notes that the students recruited by the organization have an average grade point average of 3.5 and that that 93% of them have held leadership positions on campus. In addition only 17% of Teach America applicants were accepted in 2005.
Teach for America places its recruits in the nation’s lowest income communities, both urban and rural, in an effort to close the achievement gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged children.
Abeles says the fact that neither Ribbens nor Bloem is an education major actually fits well with the Teach for America philosophy.
“We have a dual mission at Teach for America,” Abeles says. “In the short term, our corps members work in the classrooms to ensure that the students receive the educational opportunities they deserve. In the long term, in order to close the achievement gap between low-income and high-income areas, it will take leaders from all different sectors working for systemic change. We feel like it’s important that those future leaders have firsthand knowledge of the educational achievement gap.
"They know,” she emphasized, “what it’s like to be a teacher.”
Ribbens, 22, a sociology and social work major from Minneapolis, will teach in an elementary special education classroom in a Phoenix, Arizona public school. She heard about Teach for America in a Calvin sociology class.
“The program has done amazing things,” she says, “and I agreed with their overall philosophy of giving students without advantages the opportunity to achieve what other students are.”
For the past two years, Ribbens has worked in special education through the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
“I have a love for that, though I’m not a special ed major,” she says.
Following her two-year stint in Phoenix, she hopes to go to graduate school in social work.
Bloem, an English and European history major from Singapore, will teach high school English in the Mississippi delta, a destination he didn’t anticipate.
"Most of my top choices were urban," he says. "Philadelphia, Chicago, New York."
Bloem was heartened to hear that the Teach for America corps numbers around 170 in the Delta.
"I’ve talked to a couple of different people who have been placed down there and they all rave about it,” he says.
Bloem had more than one motive for applying to the program.
“I looked into the work they were doing and became passionate about that," he says. "Also, my older brother, Michael, did a mission year in Nigeria after he graduated. I was interested in doing some service-based work as well. I didn’t know what to do after graduation. I thought Teach for America might be a way to do some good while also putting off a more permanent career decision.”
Bloem is weighing either law or business school after Teach for America, but goes into the experience with an open mind.
“I’m definitely open to the idea that I could fall in love with teaching and pursue that as a lifelong career as well,” he says.
The selection of two Calvin students for Teach for America is an honor for the college says current dean for instruction and incoming provost Claudia Beversluis.
"I think it shows that on the basis of both heart and liberal arts preparation, we can compete with the other high-level colleges that send students into this program," she says.
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