"I love that I can see and talk to people from many different backgrounds; it leads to rich discussion. But when you bring together children with completely different stories, expectations and parents, managing that environment is quite a task." – Laura Wesely
Last spring, Laura Wesely ’11 was “freaking out” about her future. Three months later, the Honors College alumna was thrust into a six-week teaching boot camp nearly 3,000 miles away from her home in New Hampton, New Hampshire. She could not have been happier.
Wesely is a Spanish teacher for Teach for America (TFA), a nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate educational inequity by recruiting competitive college students, called corps members, to teach for two or more years in low-income communities throughout the United States. After completing five weeks of summer training, which TFA calls “summer institute,” Wesely began teaching at Edna Baugh Middle School in Oakland, California, as part of the Bay Area corps. Today, one of the most difficult parts of her job is managing diversity.
“Diversity is good and bad,” said Wesely, who majored in Spanish and German and minored in sociology. “I love that I can see and talk to people from many different backgrounds; it leads to rich discussion. But when you bring together children with completely different stories, expectations and parents, managing that environment is quite a task.”
Wesely is one of 14 Hofstra alumni who have participated in TFA in the last five years. Wesely said she never expected to get in. In 2011 The Washington Post reported that TFA accepts 11 percent of applicants. With her passion for educational reform, though, Wesely seems to be a perfect fit for the organization.
While Laura Wesely aspired to a career in teaching, Honors College alumna Jill Reinholt had different ambitions. But after completing a number of business internships, Reinholt, a marketing and management major, felt uninspired and began looking for work at a nonprofit. She landed a position at the United Way of Long Island.
“In my second week, I was charged with organizing the Stuff A Bus campaign, a major event for which area businesses donate school supplies for high-needs schools,” Reinholt said. “When I delivered the school supplies to the children, I saw the joy and thankfulness on their faces. It was on that day that I knew I wanted to be in education in some way.”
Reinholt joined the New York City TFA corps in 2011 as a fourth grade teacher at PS 18 in the Bronx. Although the major societal issue TFA aims to address is the achievement gap, Reinholt insists that to combat this problem as a teacher, she must ignore it.
“In my experience at institute, I learned that kids are kids,” said Reinholt, who was surprised by the amount of parental involvement at her school. “Labeling them perpetuates that gap even more. As an educator you can’t go in there and say, ‘these kids are from low-income communities.’ You have to treat all kids like they can learn, and more often than not, they can.” -Jill Reinholt