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.
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.
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: