A Road Increasingly Traveled: The Path to Curry Through TFA

by Lynn Bell

Jose* was a fifth-grade Mexican boy from a low-income, high-crime neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. His teacher, Rebecca Beeson, said that when Jose walked into her classroom he could barely write a sentence in either English or Spanish. Kids like Jose were why she was teaching in this challenging environment, where only 60 percent of students were English language proficient.

While a student at Washington & Lee University, Rebecca had double majored in history and Spanish and minored in poverty studies through the Shepherd Poverty Program.

Rebecca Beeson

Her work there inflamed her passion for ending poverty and she learned that education can be a means for people to achieve economic security. She decided to learn more about the problem firsthand, so she joined Teach for America and headed to Texas.

Within her first year there, she realized that she needed to know more about effective teaching and began master’s degree work at Southern Methodist University. She met Jose in her second year of teaching and dedicated countless hours of time tutoring him that year and the next, when she moved up with him from fourth to fifth grade. Yet, Jose still failed some of the end-of-year state tests and would be held back in fifth grade. So even though she had fulfilled her TFA obligation, she contracted for a third year at the school.

“I didn’t feel like I was done,” Rebecca says. “I had learned techniques I wanted to implement, and I was just beginning to enjoy teaching.”

Mainly, she stayed for Jose.

The next year Jose began writing in full paragraphs and participating in class discussions. This time, he passed all the end-of-year tests.

“It was the best feeling,” Rebecca says. “He was so excited. It was the first year he wouldn’t have to attend summer school.”

Only then did Rebecca finally give in to her desire to make a larger impact on education policy from outside the classroom. On the advice of some former W&L professors, she enrolled at the University of Virginia—for a dual Ph.D in education policy at the Curry School and M.P.P. at the Batten School. Ultimately, Rebecca wants her work to bridge education research and its use by school administrators or policy makers —maybe in a large school district or a department of education.

*Jose is a pseudonym

Rebecca is only one of a number of talented, passionate college graduates committed to making a difference in public education who have come to the Curry School after a stint with TFA. They have served in the trenches, looking squarely at the challenges, and they have come away wanting to stay the course on which they started—committed and determined to make the system better. Not surprisingly, they have chosen the Curry School’s graduate programs to prepare them for the next stage of solution seeking.

We are excited to introduce you to some of these exceptional students:

I was always very involved in using my language skills to serve others. As an undergraduate, I was especially interested in medical anthropology and spent a lot of time volunteering at a free clinic that served the Latino community in St. Louis.

I grew up in a low-income rural town…where a very small percentage of my classmates went to college. I am also a first-generation college student. When I took sociology courses, I learned more about racial inequality. It really opened my eyes, and I realized my passion.

I volunteered in a daycare and elementary school during my time as an undergrad in Charlottesville. Not only did I love working with the students, but this experience in the community helped shaped my perspective about the educational opportunities available in our country.

I loved kids and knew I wanted to do something with children. I wanted to try out teaching and at the same time help students at high needs schools…

I decided in my junior year that I wanted to try teaching in a rural location and knew I needed to be prepared. During my senior year I completed the master’s degree program in elementary education.

I grew up in a family of educators, and I was fortunate to receive a great K-12 and college education, but I was not necessarily set on pursuing the family profession. I felt that TFA would be a great outlet for giving that education back to the community.

I’m especially interested in bilingual and English Language Learner education given the high number of limited English proficient students who are also low-income… When I found out I could be a bilingual teacher [with TFA], I was completely sold.

What Road Brought You to Curry?

*comments that do not answer the question may be moderated
  1. These stories and these PEOPLE make me proud and happy to be a Curry School graduate. I am in my 18th year of teaching in the Rochester (NY) City School District and have faced many challenges. I was so fortunate to have been a scholarship football player at UVA and my love for the field of education runs as deep as my love for football.

    Keep up the great work all and remember the story of the starfish on the shore. A man walked along the beach and encountered a young woman surrounded by thousands and thousands of starfish washed ashore. As she was throwing them back in he spoke to her. He said “What are you doing you, you can’t save all of these?” As she threw the next one in, she said, “It sure made a difference to that one.”

    Youth, future and education. Peace and love and great work to all.

    Joe Bock

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