5 Questions with Josh Bell, Executive Director, Teach For America-South Carolina
October 17, 2011
What is Teach For America?
We are a national nonprofit that recruits, trains and develops talented recent college graduates and professionals to contribute to national momentum and local efforts to expand educational opportunities for all kids. In the short term, this means committing to teach for at least two years in high-need urban and rural public schools. In the long term, this means committing to becoming lifelong advocates for our students, inside and outside of the classroom.
This year, more than 9,000 teachers are teaching in classrooms in 43 regions across the country. Here in South Carolina, 30 charter corps members are teaching alongside other educators in the Pee Dee Region along the I-95 corridor and are joining more than 60 Teach For America alumni who work within and outside of the field of education across South Carolina.
What need is Teach For America addressing?
Here in South Carolina we are working with our partner districts and classroom colleagues to ensure that every child, regardless of their economic background, has access to an excellent education.
Today, there are more than 16 million kids in the United States living in poverty, and the vast majority of them are not getting the education they need to be successful in school and in life. In fact, only 1 in 10 students growing up in poverty will attend college. According to research out of The Johns Hopkins University, South Carolina has more rural schools on its list of "dropout factories" than any other state in the union. It doesn't have to be this way - we know that all children have the potential to achieve at the highest levels if given access to the educational opportunities they deserve.
What is your role with the organization?
I first joined Teach For America in 2008 after graduating from Clemson University. I felt compelled to do something after graduation where I knew I could have a real and immediate impact. Since Teach For America had not expanded to my home state of South Carolina yet, I decided to teach in Charlotte, North Carolina. My seventh and eighth graders grew more than 1.5 grade levels each year. Seeing what was possible in my classroom and others, I felt compelled, as a Greenville native, to lead Teach For America's new partnership with the Pee Dee community. I am so excited to be helping bring an additional source of committed educators and leaders into classrooms here.
How do Teach For America teachers impact education long-term?
Nationally, we are proud to have nearly 24,000 alumni who are continuing to advocate for kids growing up in poverty. Two-thirds of our alumni work in education and teaching is the most common career among them. Our local alumni working in education include Ansel Sanders (Baltimore '04), founder of A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School in Greenville; Melissa Williams (Charlotte '08), a district leader with Orangeburg-3; and Laura Steele (Philadelphia '04), Orangeburg-5 2010 Teacher of the Year. Other alumni continue working for students from fields outside of education, like Dr. Mary Fran Croswell (Houston '91) a pediatrician specializing in child abuse and neglect in the Greenville Hospital System.
How did Teach For America select South Carolina as an expansion site for the 2011-2012 school year?
State and school district leaders were interested in partnering with us to provide one additional source of effective teachers for high-need public schools. The passage of South Carolina State Board of Education guidelines enabling Teach For America teachers to obtain certification opened the doors for us to come here, making South Carolina the 34th state in which we work.
Our expansion would not have been possible without a broad coalition of supportive community groups, corporations, local philanthropists, and school leaders. In particular, we are very grateful to the Rainwater Charitable Foundation for making the lead investment to enable us to join South Carolina's efforts to create educational equity.
In order to continue our work here, we need the community's support. To learn more about Teach For America- South Carolina and join our efforts, visit http://www.teachforamerica.org/where-we-work/south-carolina or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.