This past year, 46,359 soon-to-be college graduates applied to Teach for America, a national teacher corps modeled after the Peace Corps. Of the 46,359 applicants, only 12 percent were accepted and of that number, three were Groton graduates from the Form of 2008. Charlotte Lysohir and Lacarnly (L.A.) Creech have each been offered placement in the program for the college Class of 2012, an astonishing coincidence.
Charlotte will graduate from Hobart and William Smith College in the spring with a double major in urban studies and sociology and a minor in studio art. Her path to Teach for America began with her interest in sociology and urban planning. While studying the impact of cityscapes on citizenry, she kept returning to the centrality of access to education to the development of an informed and active democracy. But teaching was not in the picture until she accepted an internship with Harlem Village Academies last summer.
Thanks to her computer and organizational skills, Charlotte quickly moved up the internship ladder and was promoted to a position in the network operations office, requiring her to travel around New York City setting up new faculty institutes and training teachers in computer systems and programs. The Harlem Village Academies graduated its first seniors in 2011; one of Charlotte’s first projects was to create college survival packets for each graduating senior. She researched each student’s college, discovering where students could find academic support, advisor information, mentoring programs, and financial aid. Most of Harlem Village’s graduates were first-generation college students with no sense of campus life. Charlotte’s packets provided clear and concise advice about what the college freshmen needed to know, where to find help, and whom to call when they needed assistance. Her experience at the Harlem Village Academies was eye-opening and energizing. She returned to Hobart and William Smith in the fall determined to pursue a career that would enable her to shape policy and programs in the inner city, but to speak with authority, she would need time in the classroom. Her Teach for America placement in a Washington, D.C., elementary school will allow her to immerse herself in the day-to-day life and challenges of inner-city public school teachers and schools.
L.A. found his way into the classroom through Jumpstart, an educational program not unlike Teach for America, but focused on early childhood education through preschool. L.A., a senior at Tufts University, first volunteered with Jumpstart in his freshman year of college and has logged more than 600 service hours. An elective he took his Sixth Form year at Groton—Court and Constitution, with teacher John Lyons—prompted him to volunteer. Throughout the course, L.A. and his peers were called on to research and debate fundamental aspects of American society. With public education one of the more controversial topics, L.A.’s interest was piqued, as was his friend’s, formmate Tucker Fross, who went on to volunteer with Jumpstart while at Georgetown University. L.A, discovered the power and impact of education on the lives of young children; the program taught him how young children learn and how an educator can support their learning. A major in child development with a concentration in entrepreneurial leadership, L.A. intends eventually to merge these two interests in a social enterprise based on education, a sustainable nonprofit, but that is down the line. Right now, he is looking forward to the opportunities beyond graduation.
Both Charlotte and L.A. were drawn to Teach for America because it offered them the opportunity to do meaningful service work in the United States. They each spoke to the ability to take time now to engage in a challenging program that will enable them to live out their idealism and change the world one classroom at a time. L.A. noted that the freedom he has to jump into this opportunity is in part due to his time on the Circle. Groton prepared him well to meet challenges head-on and with the sense that he had the skills and intellect to be successful, a sentiment that Charlotte echoed.
Charlotte and L.A. are looking forward not only to the challenges they will meet in their classrooms, but also to working with their Teach for America peers. Being in the company of so many other young men and women committed to both social and educational change is an exciting proposition. Charlotte and L.A. take their personal commitment to service seriously and have often found it difficult to translate their profound commitment to their college peers. Though many of their friends also engage in service, working within the Teach for America community will be an immersion unlike any they have experienced.
Through Teach for America, the next two years will lay an important foundation for Charlotte and L.A.’s long-term goals to effect broader systemic change in the American school system and in the community.
Just prior to publication, we learned that Elise Kang, also of the Form of 2008, was accepted to Teach for America and will join L.A. in the New York City public school system.