TFA's Landon Mascarenas

Landon Mascareñaz, director of the New Mexico region of Teach for America, was in Flagstaff this week to share his goals of increasing participation of Native American students. Photo by Charlie McCallie

Teach for America by the numbers

Only 11 percent of 48,000 applicants were accepted into the highly competitive Teach For America program last year. Most corps members come from fields other than education and are trained in a TFA institute before entering the classroom.

In the 2010-2011 school year, more than 400 TFA corps members taught more than 15,000 students from Native American backgrounds, numbers that TFA intends to triple by 2015.

In all, 9,200 corps members teach more than 600,000 students across the nation. That contingent includes 14 NAU alumni currently teaching; an overall 31 graduates of NAU have taught in TFA and three more have been accepted into the program for fall.

As part of a drive to recruit more Native American students into the field of education, representatives from Teach for America visited the Northern Arizona University campus Tuesday for an event titled “Closing the Achievement Gap.”

Speakers included NAU President John Haeger and College of Education Dean Gypsy Denzine, as well as Landon Mascareñaz, director of TFA’s New Mexico region. Student leaders from NAU attended and participated in round-table discussions with NAU administrators and others with local K-12 education ties.

Mascareñaz pointed to NAU’s role as “a nationwide leader in the recruitment of American Indian students into higher education,” which he said paired well with TFA’s Native Achievement Initiative.

“We want to bring more future educators who are American Indian into the teaching profession,” Mascareñaz said, “and we’re also looking for those of non-Indian backgrounds to teach in native schools.”

The expansion supports TFA’s quest to close an achievement gap in K-12 education that is felt most acutely by rural and native schools, often in low-income areas.

Teach for America describes itself as a “national corps of outstanding recent college graduates of all academic majors and career interests who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools and become leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity.”

NAU has contributed 31 alumni to TFA, including 14 current corps members. Three more students graduating in May have been accepted to TFA for this fall.

“We intend to be one of the top if not the top recruiter of American Indians into education over the next few years,” Mascareñaz said. “We’d like to see more kids coming out of NAU going back to serve education in their own communities. We think we have a role to play, and we think colleges of education like the one at NAU have a role to play. Our firm belief is that we all have to work in partnership.”

President Haeger echoed those sentiments in his opening remarks.

“The alignment of TFA and our College of Education is exact,” he said. “We’re very pleased to be linked with efforts to increase the performance of K-12 students. We’re also proud of our graduates who are part of TFA, and we’re looking forward to getting more opportunities.”

NAU students getting that opportunity this year include Sara Johnston, a dual major in women’s and gender studies and sociology who will graduate in May. Johnston said that her academic background “really pointed me in the direction” of understanding the influences that can affect the course of a student’s life. “I want to be proactive to be a part of local, national and global change,” she said.

Johnston plans to attend the TFA Institute this summer in Tulsa, then be placed in Oklahoma in early childhood education. The two other NAU students accepted into TFA include Taylor Bingham, an anthropology major who will teach high school science in New Mexico, and Caitlin Jenkins, a public relations major who will teach high school science in San Antonio.