CMC alumni bring their leadership experience to Teach for America

What do the editor-in-chief of The Forum newspaper, the president of ¡Mi Gente!, the captain of the swim team, two Kravis Leadership Institute Social Sector Program fellows, and a CMS football player have in common? They took their CMC-honed leaderships skills to the classroom via Teach for America after graduating in May.

The recent graduates’ leadership experience, drawing from internships, fellowships, research, and on-campus jobs, made them strong candidates for Teach for America, Melissa McCrickard, CMC’s Assistant Director of Career Services said. Teach for America, now in its 27th year, places recent college graduates in low-income school districts to promote educational equity for all children in the United States.

The six new alumni – Kemigisha Richardson ’17, Haley Goodman ’17, Sally Vandenberg ’17, Alejandra Vázquez Baur ’17, Kelly Ngo ’17, and Jonathan Finkelstein ’17 – joined the organization in a class of about 3,400 corps members selected from 49,000 applicants.

Richardson said her time studying abroad in South Africa informed her decision to go into teaching. While conducting a research project on health care, Richardson noticed a link between disease prevention and accessibility to education.

When Richardson returned, she focused her studies on education policy and its relationship to health care in the United States. She concluded that it would be impossible to develop an informed opinion about the public education system without firsthand experience in the classroom. That led her to apply for Teach for America. Today, she teaches math and science at Wahiawa Middle School in Honolulu.

Likewise, Goodman brought a tenacity she learned studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey, to her current job teaching eighth-grade science at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston. Living in Turkey taught her to seek out uncomfortable situations and, as she put it, to “wholeheartedly put yourself into what you do despite the day-to-day difficulties.” She believes that quality education “should not be determined by happenstance or where you were born.”

Goodman said that without the elementary and secondary school education she received, she wouldn’t have attended CMC or have been afforded opportunities like being editor-in-chief of The Forum. In that job, she said, “I needed to troubleshoot problems at a moment’s notice.” That feeling of constantly being “on” is similar to her time in the classroom.

Vandenberg teaches eighth-grade math in Kansas City, Missouri. While at CMC, she was actively involved in prison education, working with inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco who were studying for the GED and preparing for release.

“I tutored them in math, literacy, and necessary skills for reintegration, like filling out job applications,” said Vandenberg, who wrote a thesis on the financial effects of incarceration.

Vandenberg also took an “inside-out” course through Pitzer College as part of the Consortium’s cross-registration program. The class consisted of students and inmates. It was held like any other Claremont Colleges course, she said, except it took place in prison.

Vandenberg said that working in the prison gave her valuable insight about negative educational experiences. Many of the inmates she worked with had been suspended, expelled, or pushed to drop out during their middle and high school years, so she wanted to work with that age group in Teach for America.

Prison work can be tough, Vandenberg said, but she wants to eventually teach in the system.

Increasingly CMC graduates, such as the six Teach for America corps members, are pursuing careers in the nonprofit and education sectors. Katelyn Strukenberg, Teach for America’s liaison to CMC, said the organization has seen a renewed interest in the program among CMC students.

“Directly out of undergrad, corps members are given the opportunity to lead a classroom and have an immediate, profound impact on their students,” Strukenberg said.

That’s something Richardson is already seeing as a mathematics and science teacher for English language learners in Honolulu. Although she acknowledges that teaching can be taxing, the students’ energy keeps her going. On the hardest days, she focuses on how much her students are learning.

“I never forget the love and joy I have seeing my kids grow and embrace the power of their voices,” she said. “It’s my goal to give these students a platform to become future leaders.”

—Michael Tesauro