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For the fifth consecutive year, Arizona State University has been ranked as a top producer of educators by Teach For America, the national nonprofit that recruits, trains and places recent college graduates to teach for two years in high-need schools around the country.
There were 43 Teach for America corps members from ASU in 2019. This year’s cohort was one of the most diverse in Teach for America history: More than half of the incoming corps members identify as people of color, 43% come from low-income backgrounds and 1 in 3 were first-generation college students.
Julia Tebben, senior program coordinator for strategic initiatives and university partnerships for ASU Career and Professional Development Services, said ASU’s consistent top ranking for Teach for America’s indicates the dedication to service and innovation at Arizona State University.
“The fact that Arizona State University continues to be a top producer of Teach For America corps members is a testament to the impact-driven mindset of our university and its alumni,” Tebben said. “We know that students care deeply about effecting change at all levels. TFA provides a wonderful platform to take all of that drive and energy and turn it into something truly incredible. Every child deserves to reach their highest potential, and we are proud that Sun Devil alumni continue to be a part of that realization each year.”
Kiley Cronin, who graduated from ASU in December 2018 with one bachelor’s degree in psychology and another in communication, is a current corps member. Cronin, who is originally from Medway, Massachusetts, teaches second grade at Maryvale Preparatory Academy in Phoenix.
Cronin said she joined TFA because she knew she loved working with children as a gymnastics coach and because she had cousins who were corps members in Denver and Phoenix.
“When deciding what I wanted to do after graduating, TFA seemed like a clear choice since I was familiar with the program and it would allow me to continue working with and teaching children. I wanted to serve in Phoenix specifically, because throughout my time at ASU I had fallen in love with the community, and I wanted to help people within that same community that I had become a part of,” Cronin said.
Cronin said she grew up with excellent public schools in Massachusetts and is passionate about making sure every student has access to high-quality education, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status. She has seen education gaps firsthand in her experience as an educator.
“TFA truly made me realize that education is treated as a privilege in our country. But it shouldn’t be,” she said. “My hope is that the corps members of TFA not only teach their students but inspire them to become leaders and educators in the next generation so that in the future, every educator is an excellent educator, and every student has the opportunity to learn without limits.”
Jesus Vega-Valdez is a corps member who teaches special education and sophomore English at Mesa High School. He graduated from ASU in spring 2019 with one bachelor’s degree in transborder studies and another bachelor’s degree in anthropology. He also minored in economics.
Originally from Pomona, California, and the Maryvale area of Phoenix, Vega-Valdez said his experience as a peer mentor made him realize the scope of educational inequity in the United States and inspired him to pursue educational policy. But he didn’t just want to research educational issues — he wanted to understand what’s going on in classrooms firsthand.
“Acknowledging that my academic research understanding is not enough to truly analyze the issue as a whole, I joined TFA. My plan is to one day take my personal experiences from the classroom and provide a voice for my students and those in my community. I want to make sure that those in power are making decisions that are truly based on the needs of each community,” Vega-Valdez said.
The classroom experience is both amusing for Vega-Valdez (like the time he spotted a puppy in a student’s backpack in the back of his class) and edifying, building his understanding of how education can improve and inform his career path.
“Joining TFA has strengthened and reassured me that I desire to work in education policy. Being part of a community with many like-minded individuals that are all continuously working to fight against education inequity is inspirational,” he said.
Both Vega-Valdez and Cronin agree that though the job is hard, it’s an invaluable community and career experience.
“My students have also taught me a lot about themselves and about myself,” Cronin said. “I know now more than ever that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. And although it takes a lot of work and even a few tears here and there, I wouldn’t trade this job for the world.”