I met Megan Scelfo while I was an undergrad at LSU. She was from Franklin, Louisiana—a small community near the coast in St. Mary Parish. She was also a year younger than me, a dancer, and very passionate about her beliefs. Megan was the first person I ever met who had been taught by Teach For America teachers.
One of Megan’s high school teachers was Brent Maddin, a TFA corps member and science teacher who held study sessions at the Franklin McDonald’s and who pushed students like Megan to excel and take on leadership roles. For Megan, this meant following her interest in the arts and in community service. By the time I met Megan, she was a student in the LSU Honors College, and so was I.
I grew up in Baton Rouge and had never heard of Teach For America until I got to college. Now, I was considering applying for TFA myself. Meanwhile, Megan, her friend Trey Smith, and another friend of theirs worked to start a program called FOCUS (Focusing on College and Ultimate Success)through the Honors College. FOCUS hoped to extend some of the arts and service opportunities that Megan had experienced through Brent to students in other low income communities in Louisiana. Megan and Trey successfully started the program, and FOCUS continues to do great work to this day.
Recently, I thought back to our undergrad years because I just learned that Trey won the 2012 outstanding science teacher award in Philadelphia. Reading an article about his award made me consider how our friendships, our connections, and our networks all brought us to where we are. Megan might not have ever considered starting FOCUS and going into education were it not for her TFA teacher, Brent Maddin. Had I never met Megan, I might not have applied to TFA. FOCUS might have never gotten off the ground had Megan and Trey not met each other. And Trey might not be teaching at all, much less the outstanding science teacher of Philadelphia, had he not connected with Megan. Our connections with each other helped pull each of us toward the classroom and continued innovation and impact with students.
The connections between Brent, Megan, Trey, and I aren’t unique, and neither are the ways in which those connections impacted all of our lives. All of those connections, the ones we make at home, in college, through our networks, and beyond serve as critical resource for us and help our students in all kinds of ways.
For example, Andy Sears, a TFA corps member in Louisiana, secured much needed donations for his students in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav by reaching out to his family, friends, and old elementary school in Southern Illinois. Lucas Spielfogel, another Louisiana corps member, reached out to his own network (including friends made through pickup basketball games and through the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition) to raise thousands of dollars in donations to take a small group of his students from Louisiana to Washington, D.C.
We all have networks, from our social networks to those people we work with on a daily basis. I am beginning to understand that the connections we build can be nets and ladders for ourselves and each other. What’s more, they can serve as nets and ladders for our students. Brent was a ladder for Megan—she excelled under his guidance. Megan and Trey were nets for each other as they built FOCUS, and FOCUS became the ladder of opportunity for students throughout Louisiana. As we all continue to think about the networks we’re creating as teachers and leaders in our community, I hope we can create even more of these nets and ladders for our students into the future.