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Amanda Fernandez

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Latinos Answering the Call for Social Justice Through Teach for America

Posted: 07/24/2012 7:30 am

This coming school year a record 5,800 new Teach For America teachers will enter the nation's highest-need schools, including 550 who identify as Latino. This marks the largest incoming Latino corps in Teach For America's 23-year history. With these incoming teachers, 10,000 first- and second-year Teach For America corps members will collectively reach more than 750,000 students -- 40 percent of whom are Latino -- across 46 regions in 36 states and the District of Columbia. This puts Teach For America among the largest single providers of Latino public school teachers in the country. Who are these Latinos and why did they decide to join this effort?

While the misconception that Teach For America teachers are all people of privilege continues to persist, there is an aspect of truth in that our teachers, including our Latino teachers, have enjoyed the privilege of access to a college degree and many have had the benefit of someone in their life supporting them to persist in their educational pursuits. Each of our teachers has a fire in their belly about this privilege--they know that a great education shouldn't be something only some of us get. It should be every child's and family's right.

The Latino corps members and alumni I know are deeply invested in committing themselves to this social justice issue of their generation: ensuring that our youngest learners growing up in poverty are getting the educational opportunities they deserve, an issue which disproportionally impacts Latinos. Latinos now have the highest poverty rates in the nation with one in three Hispanic children living in low-income communities where, on average, nine-year-olds are already two- to three- grade levels behind their more affluent peers.

Many of Teach For America's Latino corps members have been impacted by disparities in educational access in their own experience and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They come from across the country in communities like Boston, Miami, East LA, and Kansas City. In many cases there is a shared history and understanding of the Latino experience that helps them to build trust with their students and their families. The leadership skills they come with and that they will continue to develop, along with their deep understanding of the challenges our Latino communities face, set them up to be powerful role models for their students.

These teacher leaders will innovate their own solutions of how to help their kids and families to aspire to achieve academically. And down the road they will take a number of different approaches in their continued work to close the achievement gap - many will continue to teach and lead their kids to significant achievement, others will lead schools of their own others, start their own non-profits, become political leaders, and the list goes on. All in order to ensure that every kid--no matter their zip code of skin color--receives a great education.

Over the last 23 years, we have seen that through the experience of teaching successfully in some of our nation's highest-need schools, these Latino leaders will gain the credibility, inspiration, hope and audacity to believe in their capacity to help change lives. The experience will fuel an anger and frustration about a situation that is devastating to the life prospects of children that look like them and come from their communities. They will come to realize that not acting is simply not an option.

My hope is that readers of this blog will get a chance to interact with our Latino corps members and alumni. I'm inspired daily by their motivations and what they are doing to play a part in changing the life trajectory of Latino children across the country. While we're continually working to engage many more Latinos in this work, I am encouraged by the progress we are seeing and the impact this growing number of Latino teachers will have in our schools and communities.

 

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