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More Young Americans Volunteer to Teach in Needy Areas


This year a group called Teach For America saw a 36 percent spike in applications. The organization recruits college graduates to help fill a teacher shortage in economically disadvantaged areas of America. The organization's leaders say some college graduates are committing to public service as during the economic downturn but also many feel a renewed spirit of public service.

VOA's Brian Padden recently visited a Teach for America member who says teaching is much harder than she anticipated but changing the world is never easy.

Loren Heinbach says she became a teacher to address the inequality in education that exists between rich and poor communities.

"I figured that if I really truly cared about this issue and I am given the opportunity to do something about it, I have to choose to be a part of the solution," Heinbach said.

She is one of more than 6,000 Teach For America members, recent college graduates who volunteer to teach children in underprivileged inner city and rural public schools.

And so Heinbach took a job teaching here at the KIPP Academy, deferring possible careers in medicine or law which could pay much more later on.

The school is in a neighborhood of Washington, DC where educators say students traditionally perform in the lowest 25% of national norms.

Vice Principal Kristy Ochs says the school is committed to improving the quality of education, and it is difficult to find teachers willing to do the hard work required.

"We are looking for excellence in the classroom," Ochs said. "It means having absolutely no excuses to achievement for the kids. It means getting here at six o'clock in the morning and staying here 'till seven at night, doing whatever it takes. Recruiting that kind of teacher, yes, is sometimes difficult."

Ochs also got her start in Teach For America. Two-thirds of members stay in education, after their two year commitment ends. She says the dedication of these new teachers more than compensates for any lack of experience.

Heinbach's students say she has high standards and expectations.

One student said, "you have to really pay attention. You can't like slack because the questions may seem easy, but if you make the wrong decision on a question it's like you really messed up."

"She also likes us to take notes. And I appreciate that about her because she is getting us ready for college," another student added.

Teach for America has seen an increase in applications in the last year, in part, because of the bad economy. But Teach For America's Kevin Huffman says President-elect Barak Obama's call for public service during the presidential campaign has inspired a new generation.

"I think there was a real mood on college campuses that really become focused on making a difference in public service, impacting critical areas of need for the country, and I think we are helping young people tap into that sense and spirit of service," Huffman said.

For Loren Heinbach seeing the impact she is having on students is worth the sacrifice.

"I can see that they are learning," Heinbach added. "I can track their learning and their success. So I know that what I am doing every single day is meaningful."

Even if Loren Heinbach decides to leave the teaching profession, she says she will take with her a greater sense of social responsibility.

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