Teach for America and Lilly

President Obama spoke eloquently in his State of the Union address last month about education, especially the importance of teaching.  The president said:  "If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher.  Your country needs you."

This call to service is an urgent one for schools serving our most at-risk children.  A great organization--Teach for America--is answering the call.  They are placing dedicated young teachers (or, as TFA calls them, "corps members") in some of our most difficult classrooms to help address "educational inequity."  TFA says (the link doesn't exist anymore) that "educational inequity is the reality that, too often, where a child is born determines the quality of his or her education, and in turn, life prospects.  Educational inequity starts early and is compounded over time - in fact, only 1 in 10 children growing up in poverty graduates from college." 

Talented, dedicated teachers can help turn this around, and TFA corps members are working hard to be part of the solution.  There are over 8,200 TFA corps members teaching in some of our poorest, lowest performing schools.  These teachers are among the very best young people we have in America.  The newest class of corps members was selected from an applicant pool of 46,000 people, which included 12% of all Ivy League seniors.  These young men and women have formidable talents, combined with a compassion that is motivating them to work tirelessly on behalf of our poorest children.      

In our home city of Indianapolis, we have over 100 TFA corps members teaching in public schools, and Lilly is proud to be their partner.  In addition to financial contributions, Lilly employees are volunteering their time to support corps members.  This year, over 100 Lilly employees are serving as "Lilly/TFA Advocates," supporting corps members in various ways, including helping them better connect to the Indianapolis community. 

Next week, our advocates will be in classrooms interacting with students and helping with teaching duties.  This will give our people a close look at the challenges and opportunities associated with closing the well-documented achievement gap that afflicts so many of our underprivileged children.  And, importantly, our employees will see firsthand what smart, dedicated, hard working teachers willing to do what is necessary to drive student achievement can do for our most vulnerable children. 

To be sure, TFA is not a "silver bullet," but it is playing a very important role in improving student outcomes in underserved schools.  I am proud to be a TFA regional board member and a "Lilly/TFA Advocate." Next week, I will be in the classroom with my corps member partner--Ms. Kelly Pontius.  Kelly is helping young adults earn high school degrees.  She sent me an e-mail earlier today informing me of our plan:  "We are going to teach surface area for rectangular prisms and cylinders." 

Yikes.  I think I have some studying to do this weekend!