NEW YORK -- During Hispanic Heritage Month, Teach For America celebrates the accomplishments of its Hispanic corps members and alumni, who are working to ensure that their students have the educational opportunities they deserve. In its 20 years of existence, the organization has reached more than 3 million students in low-income communities, almost half of whom are Hispanics. Aida Flores and Marco Martinez are among those whose lives have been impacted by Teach For America in extraordinary ways.
24-year-old Aida Flores, of Mexican origin, grew up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of Chicago. She became a mother at 14, but that didnt stop her from earning a B.A. in Spanish and history from Georgetown University, the first person in her family to attend college.
Against all odds, Flores completed high school at Benito Juarez Community Academy, where she crossed paths with four Teach For America teachers who were instrumental in her education. Her classmates described her as "not interested in attending college," but one of her Teach For America teachers encouraged her to work hard and apply to Georgetown. Although she had never considered college as an option, Flores decided to take on the challenge. Her Teach For America teachers helped her through the process, and she still keeps in touch with two of them, who have become her life mentors.
During a Teach For America recruitment event at Georgetown, Flores listened to a corps member narrate what seemed like her own life story. She decided to apply to Teach For America. Her parents, who had always supported her efforts in the past, were surprised by her decision; at first, they didnt understand Teach For Americas mission of building the movement to end educational inequity. Now they recognize how critical this mission is, as well as the important role Teach For America has played in their daughters development.
Today, Flores teaches Spanish at Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy in Chicagos Pilsen neighborhood. Her students face the same academic and social challenges that she confronted not long ago. They are increasingly responsive to her teaching, and their progress confirms her belief that it is possible to close the achievement gap that distances them from students in more affluent communities.
"Although I may not be a teacher my entire life, ensuring that every child in this nation gets a great and meaningful education will be one of my lifelong goals," says Marco Martinez, who just completed his second year as a Teach For America corps member and plans to continue teaching for a few more years. Martinez, a 24-year-old Mexican American, grew up in Elsa, Texas. In high school, he met a handful of great teachers who challenged him to excel and exposed him to a world of new things. His first experience with Teach For America was through his physics teacher, Ms. Sung, and other corps members who taught in his school. Their determination and perseverance impressed him and changed his perspective on learning. As Martinez worked toward his high school diploma, he realized for the first time that he could do anything with his life.
Four years later, he graduated from Brown University with an honors degree in Latin American studies. He says he "knew that the world was mine for the taking." Martinez is the first in his family to earn a degree from a four-year college. During his junior and senior years, he interned with Teach For America, and because of his high-school experience, he felt that he was part of the organization already. He decided to join Teach For Americas corps after college graduation.
As a Teach For America corps member, Martinez returned to his hometown, where he has taught fifth grade science for the past two years at PFC David Ybarra Middle School. Next year, he will teach sixth grade world geography and cultures at IDEA Public Schools in San Juan, Texas. "Teaching has been one of the most difficult-and fulfilling-things I have ever done," Martinez says, adding that his biggest challenge was getting his students to believe in themselves.
Today, Martinezs driving goal is to spark the love of learning in his students to help them meet their academic goals and lead successful lives. Although he still wants to become a doctor (a dream he has harbored since he was 10 years old), he is in no rush: "Ive taken the scenic route, and will get there eventually."
Aida Flores and Marco Martinez demonstrate the life-changing impact that Teach For America corps members can have on the students they serve. This school year, 8,200 corps members will impact more than 500,000 children across 39 regions in 31 states and Washington D.C. At the same time, more than 20,000 alumni continue working to end educational inequity by impacting its root causes. As Teach For America begins recruiting for its 2011 corps, the organization once again seeks to increase the number of Latino teachers who, like Flores and Martinez, demonstrate the characteristics necessary to raise student achievement levels. Teach For America provides these dedicated individuals with an opportunity to give back to their community by helping their students fulfill their potential.
About Teach For America
Teach For America is the national corps of outstanding recent college graduates who commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools and become lifelong leaders in expanding educational opportunity. Today, 8,200 corps members are teaching in 39 regions across the country, while more than 20,000 Teach For America alumni continue working from inside and outside the field of education for the fundamental changes necessary to ensure educational excellence and equity.