10 Years In Indianapolis: ‘Lean Forward’
January 10, 2018
“Our stories matter. Together, they add up to a tapestry of profound potential for change, the change we seek...One Day.”Amar PatelExecutive DirectorTeach For America Indianapolis
As low-income Indian natives and children of farmers, educators and social activists, my mother and father beat immense odds to graduate medical school in India. They chose to immigrate to the United States in the mid-70s seeking a better life for themselves and their future children. As I've progressed through my twenties and early thirties I’ve realized just how much of my life and who I am today is shaped by my family’s story.
l was born and raised in Terre Haute, Indiana where I became a ﬁrst-generation American K-12 public schools graduate. l was (and continue to be) privileged as a child of highly educated professionals, the beneﬁciary of immigrant experiences and the sense of possibility this afforded in me. My family, teachers, and school faculty served as supportive, loving coaches who encouraged good grades, leadership opportunities, college entry and graduation, and a life of choice.
However, many of my friends and peers were not offered equitable opportunities, and nearly a third of my high school class dropped out before graduation. It’s these stories—those of my family, early years, and school experience—that shaped in me a belief in the transformative power of education and the sobering reality of a promise denied to far too many.
My passion to help affect change ultimately led me to the TFA Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana corps in 2007, the beginning of a lifelong commitment that continues to shape me today. Proximate to kids in Iow-income classrooms and schools with the accountability to support their thriving, I saw firsthand my kids’ brilliance, remarkable potential, and inspiring ambition. I also saw the many obstacles they were up against.
Dan (*name changed to protect identity), a student in my chemistry class my first year who is now a clear lifelong friend, was also the son of immigrants. Though his parents loved him dearly, worked hard, and wanted the best for him, they were new to the US. education system, non-native English speaking and working class and struggled to provide for him in ways they wanted. Our education system needed to empower him even more to support his additional needs as a young person, but it didn’t. He showed up to my junior-year chemistry class ready for rigorous learning but had well below the skill sets, GPA, and conﬁdence to match his capacity. He eventually graduated high school and pursued, though hasn’t ﬁnished, a post—secondary degree, something he deeply wanted.
Dan's story and friendship shape me. He shapes my worldviews, my curiosity in the complexity and systemic nature of educational inequity, and my unshakeable conviction in its ultimate solvability. I’m forever thankful to Dan, my corps experience, and the TFA community around me ever since, a privilege I will never forget.
“Our 10-year anniversary in Indy—kicked off with the 10th Anniversary Summit—presents an opportunity to reflect on the decade past, witness the power and magnetism of our growing community, and with a broad and diverse community, collectively imagine the future.”
A year and a half in as Executive Director of TFA in Indy, l feel an immense degree of gratitude and humility. Our 10-year anniversary in Indy—kicked off with the 10th Anniversary Summit—presents an opportunity to reflect on the decade past, witness the power and magnetism of our growing community, and with a broad and diverse community, collectively imagine the future. I’m thankful for the opportunity to lead alongside brilliant and virtuous leaders towards a vision of One Day we believe in, together. I’m thankful for the gift of learning that comes with our broad and diverse TFA lndy community now nearly seven hundred strong...and on the move...leading in classrooms, schools, and virtually every sector and ﬁeld that shapes our education system. Thanks to efforts of so many of you over the past 10 years, we have momentum in Indy driving us closer towards expanding opportunities for all children.
And yet, I'm humbled by the immensity of educational inequity and underperformance in our midst. The problem is big, historic, and systemic in nature. It requires systemic solutions over a sustained period of time. I’m thankful for the opportunity to lean toward in the effort, heeding all we‘ve learned over the past decade in Indy (and 27 years nationally), arm in arm with a powerful and vibrant community of people who believe in what l believe in: One Day.