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Teach For America sees record numbers

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 28, 2009 - Teach For America, the national program that places college graduates in low-income schools for a two-year commitment, has announced that 4,100 teachers will be starting this fall in 34 regions across the country. That's the largest group in the organization's 20-year history.

In St. Louis, 100 teachers are set to begin at area public schools. That number ties the record from last year, and the size of the combined first- and second-year corps is the largest ever here -- roughly a 15 percent increase over the combined total from 2008-09.  

A record 35,000 people applied to TFA this year, and the program says it was more selective in terms of grades, SAT scores and extracurricular activities. Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of TFA, told the Associated Press that this is the first year in which the program has had to turn away applicants who would have made the grade in any previous year.

Teach For America recruits on hundreds of college campuses. At Saint Louis University, for instance, 6 percent of seniors applied to the program, according to TFA. Sixteen SLU students are set to begin teaching in the fall. At Washington University, about 9 percent of the senior class applied to the program, and 25 recent grads are set to start in the fall. Kopp met with many of the new corps members earlier this month after speaking at Wash. U.'s graduation. 

I asked Kopp recently whether she attributes the growth of Teach For America mostly to an increasing interest among young people in public service, or whether it's a matter of graduates facing a tough economy with fewer job options (or a little of both). Kopp said the following: 

"While the economic downturn has resulted in less competition from the private sector on college campuses, we believe that an increasing interest in public service has also been a significant factor in our application growth. Specifically, we’ve found that the economy has given young people the license to think more freely about their career options and how they can make a difference. A number of our recruiters have noted that more young people are feeling empowered to pursue personally meaningful work and answer the president’s call to serve."

St. Louis has about 200& Teach For America alums in the area, and the Regional Business Council has been pushing to keep recent program graduates here.  

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