Alex Fenn, Colorado '12

Alex Fenn's students. (Photo credit: Teach For America)

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school includes visiting the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in first grade. Much of my first-grade experience is a relative blur, but the image of a diplodocus skeleton is one I’ll never forget, as it sparked my lifelong fascination with dinosaurs. 

Experiences like this, ones that will make my students remember my class for years to come, are something that I strive to create in my third-grade classroom at College View Elementary School in Denver. So when I learned that Teach For America-Colorado, Subaru of America, and Leave No Trace, an organization that conducts trainings on outdoor ethics and environmental responsibility, would be partnering to bring a classroom to their Western Regional Offices, I jumped at the opportunity. This year, Subaru donated $10 million to ASPCA, Make-A-Wish, Meals On Wheels Association of America, National Park Foundation, and Teach For America as well as more than 240 local charities across the country. Teach for America regions, spanning 34 states, will receive over $1 million from Subaru. In addition to providing an environmental enrichment opportunity for my students, Teach For America-Colorado received $50,000 to help recruit, train, and provide ongoing support to teachers who commit to teaching in high-need schools and subject areas in Colorado’s public schools.

Jessica Castanon Maurer

Michelle Obama at College Week.

Together with Destination College and organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and CityYear, Teach For America-San Antonio helped to put on College Week, a week of events for students designed to make college top-of-mind for students of all ages, from kindergarten through high school, and their parents. This was a truly collaborative effort that brought together likeminded organizations to help prepare San Antonio’s children for college. Each day of the week focused on a different age group: elementary school, middle school, and high school. 

The culminating event was the Mayor’s signing ceremony, in which all high school seniors from across the city were invited to come together to publicly commit to the college or university they will attend next year. Over 2,100 high school seniors, double last year’s attendance, packed the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Convocation Center to publicly commit to their future college. Among those in attendance were Mayor Julian Castro and a very special guest: the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.  

The week stems from an ambitious city-wide goal that 80% of San Antonio’s high school seniors in the year 2020 will enroll in college. This goal was set as part of SA2020, a road map for working toward a collective community vision of what we want San Antonio to be by the year 2020. Eleven issues were identified as most important to address in order to transform San Antonio. Education was one of the top priorities identified.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the last two weeks, we’ve introduced you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Travis Dempsey, sixth-grade math teacher at Rise Academy in Newark, NJ

In an effort to better meet the needs of his sixth graders, Travis implemented a blended learning system in his classroom. He created a math bar for his students to use in rotations with the small group lessons he leads at the front of the classroom.

At the math bar, students work at laptops on Khan Academy and other online math programs. Travis creates a “playlist” of objectives for each student to master independently and groups of students who work to collaborate on certain objectives. Students often choose to come to school at 6:30 in the mornings and on Saturdays to use the math bar to meet their blended learning goals.

This week, the world lost a Phenomenal Woman. Though she never attended college, Maya Angelou seamlessly weaved words into poems and stories that captured the world’s attention. Watch Dr. Angelou share a fitting life lesson about the liberating power of love.

Student-loan horror stories coupled with the seemingly depressing state of today’s job market have led many to many to question the value of a college degree. The New York Times does the calculations to determine whether a college degree is worth the costs.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the next two weeks, we’re introducing you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Ramon Sanchez, second-, third-, and fourth-grade teacher at Horace Mann School in San Jose, CA

Ramon’s school is less than a mile away from many companies that prop the economy of the Bay Area, yet many students at his school have no opportunity to be creative and explore technology in a meaningful way.  

Last year, Ramon taught a combo class: 20 second-graders and six third-graders. He wanted to find a way to keep his third-grade students engaged. Using classroom computers and Google software, he found a creative alternative to having students complete modules that fostered creativity and collaboration through technology.

To our community:

Today, we want to honor the life of an incredible leader, writer, and advocate: Maya Angelou. She once said:

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.

We want to celebrate that love today, and we want to remember the work and wisdom of Dr. Angelou, who has inspired both of us with the power of her words. Throughout her life, Dr. Angelou’s writing addressed issues of justice and equity with a power that few possess. Her words will live on, and her legacy will continue to inspire us—she reminds us of the impact that teachers, families, and communities can have when we unite in our shared love of children and our shared commitment to what they deserve.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the next two weeks, we’re introducing you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Rachel Warbelow, Ben Salkowe, Emily Bassier, and Raymond Gonzalez, seventh- and eighth-grade teachers at the Scholars Working OverTime at Eldorado Prep in Las Vegas, NV

In 2010, Rachel and Ben started the Scholars Working OverTime, an extended-day, college-prep program for underserved middle school students in East Las Vegas. They believed that in order to transform the lives of their students, they would also need to change the way that families, students, and teachers all work together.

Now in its fourth year, SWOT serves 120 seventh- and eighth-graders, many of whom have been on the team since the start. Rachel, Ben, Emily, and Raymond start each year by sitting down with each student and his or her family to commit to excellence. During the school year, they track academics, attendance, and behavior through an app they developed. All students and families have access to their data.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the next two weeks, we’re introducing you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

May Tsupros, high school science teacher at Chicago Bulls College Prep in Chicago, IL

May co-founded Gardeneers, a nonprofit that helps schools create amazing school garden programs. In its first year, Gardeneers serves four schools across Chicago. 

In addition to teaching hands-on science, the school garden programs supply students with nutritious food, teach healthy eating habits, get families involved at school, and strengthen the community. Research shows garden programs are linked with reduced crime and increased property values.

Jacqueline Soohoo

Imagine your breakfast is cooked by students and served with freshly picked, wild thimbleberries. Imagine your morning commute to school is a swift hike through moss-covered buckeye trees. Imagine your classroom is a circle of logs underneath the shade of a tree, where students are busy painting interpretations of vocab words on rocks, while another group is reading a novel in the grass.

It’s not just imagination. It’s Camp Phoenix.

Camp Phoenix was founded in 2012 by three Teach For America alumni and former staff members, providing students from low-income areas with an intensely academic and joyful overnight summer program in the Bay Area. Summer is a critical time for children, as research shows that high-income children typically gain months of learning through education-rich activities—such as traveling and camp—while low-income children lose two months of learning.

Summer matters, and Camp Phoenix aims to reimagine what summer can be.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the next two weeks, we’re introducing you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Liz Chen, Dale Hammer, and Grayson Cooper, math and science teachers at Northampton County High School in Conway, NC

Liz, Dale, and Grayson established the Northampton Summer STEM Program—a four-week summer program that challenges students to think critically, work as a team, and embrace a growth mindset.

During the first summer, 43 students from Northampton County High School and KIPP Pride High School completed project-based courses in math and science and an introductory computer science course. Students developed websites for small businesses in Roanoke Valley, learning how to maintain professional relationships.

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We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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The thoughts, ideas, and opinions expressed on Pass the Chalk are the responsibility of individual bloggers. Unless explicitly stated, blog posts do not represent the views of Teach For America as an organization. 

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