Greater Delta: Mississippi & Arkansas
The story of Teach For America’s work in the Greater Delta is nearly 30 years in the making but built on a rich history that stretches back much further.
Though the popular narrative about Arkansas and Mississippi is often deficit-based and focuses on a history of oppression, what is also true is that this region has repeatedly set the vision and standard for what is possible when communities come together to fight for change. Holding this context close, our regional mission is to find new opportunities to create further impact based on the lessons learned from the people who came before us. From Freedom Rides and schools to navigating unparalleled economic limitations to national news-making integration efforts that continue to this day, we have much to learn from the educators and equity workers who started the playbook for change in such a landscape.
What we have learned since our first cohort, in 1991, is that to set students on a trajectory towards access and opportunity, they must have competence in three things: literacy, leadership, and wellness. Literacy, because we cannot continue to allow students to matriculate from high school without reading comprehension. Leadership, because our students continue to receive the message that, to thrive, they must leave their home communities and work elsewhere. Wellness, because our students are brilliant, and the door to their futures shouldn’t depend on how resilient they are to trauma. By equipping students with this foundation, we are poised to see generations in the Delta who will finish the playbook started for them, right here.
Our corps members work in some of the hardest-to-reach places of the rural Delta region, on both sides of the Mississippi River, and small-urban communities who continue to face deeply rooted systemic challenges. Corps members' two-year commitment is measured not only in their students’ academic growth but in steps taken to maximize their experience in their placement community. And their work continues through a growing population of alumni and a legacy of regional leadership that is visible in offices, storefronts, courtrooms, and classrooms today.
Because, for us, it’s personal. The Greater Delta is home. Moved by the passion and potential of this place, we have built our lives here, met partners here, started families here, established businesses here, and continue to pour our hearts into the students and families we live and work alongside. We hold unique proximity to our ultimate stakeholders and their greatest challenges.
In short, we are defined by our greatest asset, our people: creative, entrepreneurial, resilient, and visionary. We are brimming with the desire to see our region live up to its potential as two destination states, a beacon from where the brilliance of all is encouraged and amplified. If the Delta adage is true—“Here, if you know someone, you know everyone”—then we see the potential for the impact we make together to ripple across our region, our country, and beyond.
“There's something special about [the Greater Delta] and its people. I've never experienced such a combination of opportunity and intimacy. What better place to challenge yourself and grow than a community committed to doing the same?”
The Greater Delta is a place that will steal your heart with its generous atmosphere, friendly faces, and unforgettable landscapes. The close bonds you will form with students and neighbors, fellow educators, and school leaders, as well as staff and alumni, provide a unique and supportive environment for you to empower and illuminate student brilliance.
Becoming a part of a vibrant and connected community is truly a distinctive feature of life in the Greater Delta. Any outing to the grocery store or weekday game will inevitably connect you with someone that you know. Any given Saturday may be spent with local enthusiasts of your favorite pastimes, whether that’s participating in a fun-run, enjoying barbecue or tamales, listening to homespun blues, or enjoying the outdoor attractions of the Mississippi River or numerous state parks.
Many of our corps members have always called the Greater Delta home. Others were attracted by the opportunity to serve in a place with such a rich history on the front lines of the fight for educational equity. While here, you’ll join the legacy of the Little Rock Nine, who focused the eyes of the nation on the South’s homegrown pioneers of educational equity, and the Freedom Schools in Mississippi, which mobilized over 1,000 volunteers to register black voters and teach in local communities. Regardless of where you are from, if you are looking to contribute to something much larger than yourself, the Greater Delta is the place for you.
Our partners frequently cite their appreciation for the energy and enthusiasm that Teach For America corps members bring to their communities. If you are passionate about leading an after-school program, coaching a sports team, or someday founding your own organization beyond the classroom, you will find the Greater Delta to be a fertile environment for your dreams to take root and grow.
As a result of your two years being deeply involved, joining with local communities and coalitions, and pushing yourself to lead a rigorous and culturally responsive classroom, we can guarantee your heart will forever be tied to the students of the Greater Delta, and their limitless potential.
The birthplace of American music, a major arena in the Civil Rights Movement, and the home of many of our nation’s most prolific voices and creative minds—including Richard Wright, William Faulkner, BB King, Tennessee Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Henson, Eudora Welty, and Morgan Freeman—Mississippi and its residents have long been recognized for their contributions to American society. Yet the state’s own culture is a complicated one. The introduction of mechanized farming and the effects of globalization, combined with the residue of a racially segregated past, have forced many people to leave the state to find employment elsewhere and have made Mississippi, and its Delta region in particular, a largely forgotten national treasure.
Herein lies our great opportunity, and there is light in the distance on this broad and storied horizon. Like these integral figures of Mississippi—and national cultural history—our corps members are varied in their strengths, and our alumni are making great strides in a multitude of fields, as authors, musicians, innovators, business owners, and legal minds.
The success of our corps members and alumni are an integral part of the regional priorities, as we push to make Mississippi and Arkansas a destination region for ourselves and our kids. We work in concert to win in the classroom, build an expansive and recursive network, and illuminate the brilliance of students.
Clarksdale, Mississippi, is known as the home of the blues—some legends suggest that the famous crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul are on the edge of town. Live music still echoes from “juke joints” nearly every night; every April, thousands of international tourists arrive in town for one of the state’s biggest blues festivals, with musicians playing in the town’s impressive array of art galleries and restaurants. Challenges remain: economic opportunities are limited and de facto segregation persists. But over the past decade, community members, including corps members and alumni, have launched important ventures that help sustain the beating heart of this legendary region.
Nestled on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, Greenville is a literary haven and home to numerous authors, as well as Mississippi’s fourteenth largest school district. After five decades of outmigration, Greenville is poised for rebirth. New leadership, a growing arts community, and a burgeoning population of young professionals ensure a bright future. Many alumni and corps members live and teach in Greenville, where they take pride in the city's people, history, and, of course, its food (the town hosts a Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Festival each October).
Jackson, as the state’s largest city, is a center for art, culture, food—and politics. Much of the work to reform the state’s education system is centered here, at the state capitol, including an ongoing discussion about the state’s new charter schools. An affordable city, Jackson has attracted waves of artists and chefs, especially to the Fondren neighborhood, which hosts a monthly block party and houses many of the state’s finest restaurants.
Helena-West Helena, a town of 11,000 people on the skirts of the Mississippi River, is a warm and vibrant community. Helena boasts both a traditional public school district, Helena-West Helena Public Schools, and a charter school system, KIPP Delta Public Schools, and Teach For America has long partnered with each in its efforts to ensure their children have access to rigorous and enriching educational opportunities.
Beginning with its first corps in 1991, corps members and alumni have become valued and active members of this incredible community with many moving into school leadership positions. Many have chosen to make Helena their long-term home while others, like Michelle Kuo, author of Reading With Patrick, continue to draw inspiration and learnings from their two years here even after moving away. Helena is truly a unique place to live and teach.
From local start-up programs for new entrepreneurs to the monthly Cherry Street Fair to the famous annual King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena is a town in its renaissance and reflects so many of the opportunities you can find in the Arkansas Delta.
Across the river from Greenville, Mississippi is Lake Village, home of the longest standing educator in Arkansas. Joyce Vaught not only has well over seventy years in the field – 23 of which spent as superintendent - but almost singlehandedly integrated the schools in Lake Village, to help ensure that all children had access to the resources they deserve. In the wake of her leadership, our corps advocate for students with innovative academic and extracurricular initiatives in the Lake Village community.
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