Everything is bigger in Texas—including its school systems. There are approximately 5.3 million public school students across the state, representing 1 in 10 public school students in America. Over 50 percent of students come from low-income backgrounds.
As a majority-minority state, what happens in Texas will have a major influence on the rest of the country. The strategies and lessons learned about what’s possible in education will be increasingly relevant to all cities.
A year after its founding in 1990, TFA established footprints in Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. Today, corps members also serve in Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. As of 2018, 4,500 alumni live and work throughout Texas—leading classrooms, opening innovative schools, and working together to ensure that all kids have equal access to opportunity.
This video tells the story of Teach For America's work in Texas, told from the point of view of those who are working to close the opportunity gap. From Houston to the Rio Grande Valley, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio—TFA alumni, corps members, and their students share personal stories about breaking down barriers to opportunity and raising the expectations for what students can achieve in the Lone Star State.
Teach For America has held a presence in Houston for nearly 30 years. In that time, alumni have been working alongside the community to reimagine how schools can help students break the cycle of poverty. Alums like David Levin and Michael Feinberg, two 1992 Houston alums who co-founded the KIPP network of public charter schools that now serves nearly 29,000 students in Texas, and more than 100,000 students nationwide. Sehba Ali (Houston ’98) also serves as the newly appointed CEO of KIPP, Texas. Growing up in an immigrant family that valued education as a path to the future, she knew she wanted to be a part of the movement in Texas from the moment she saw a TFA poster as a senior in college.
The TFA network is thriving in Houston, as alumni and corps members work together to provide extra support to help students navigate the path to college. Rick Cruz (Houston ’08) founded Emerge-HISD, a college readiness program that connects high-achieving low-income students with the nation's top universities and colleges. The program now serves more than 2,000 students, including Liliana Martinez, a 2013 Emerge Alum, who is now teaching in Houston as a 2018 corps member.
Rio Grande Valley
Situated in a rural area along the U.S.-Mexico border, over 90 percent of the population in the Rio Grande Valley identifies as low-income. And more than 250 alumni and corps members are working to raise the bar for what students can accomplish despite huge obstacles, providing a model for the rest of the country to follow. After serving together in the 1997 Rio Grande Valley corps, Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama co-founded IDEA Public Schools. They believe that the number one factor that will make a difference in a student's life is the quality of their teachers. What started as a school of 150 students on the second floor of a church building is now 79 schools across the state, serving 45,000 students. Being propelled forward because of the power of the alumni within TFA.
There are over 900 alumni and corps members living and working in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. They include Miguel Solis (Dallas-Ft. Worth ’09) who is serving his fifth year on the Dallas ISD school board. The board works to tackle the biggest issues facing the community—childhood poverty, lack of early childhood education opportunities, and the inability to pay teachers an adequate salary.
Alumni are also leading organizations that fill in the gaps in under-resourced schools. Taylor Toynes (Dallas-Ft. Worth ’14) is the founder and executive director of For Oak Cliff, which provides education, advocacy, and community building within the same community where he was raised.
And Jayda Batchelder (Dallas-Ft. Worth ’09), who founded Education Opens Doors after she learned that in some schools, guidance counselors might have less than 40 minutes over the course of four years to speak to a student about their options after high school. She quickly banded together with a group of alumni, including Sandra Godina (Dallas-Ft. Worth ’13), to create a solution to ensure that all students have access to opportunity. Since 2012, the organization has supported 44,000 students.
Family and community are closely held values in San Antonio, especially for the Teach For America alumni and corps members who see themselves reflected in the students they serve. David Nungaray, a 2010 San Antonio alum serves as school principal at Bonham Academy, where he supports K-8 students, many of whom are English language learners. And Bianca Rosales, whose own grandparents attended the school where she now teaches as a 2017 corps member. Recognizing the role that strong female role models can play, Bianca created the She Is program at her school, to expose young girls to leaders within our community.
All across the state of Texas and beyond, TFA is building a culture of leadership. Alumni are motivated to do more after seeing what others are doing. Throughout the network they are swapping ideas, partnering on projects, and finding ways to overcome great barriers.