Alumni in many regions have organized themselves into advisory boards and leadership councils, each with its own goals beyond simply helping alums to connect. Some prioritize informing alumni on local issues. Others support and advise corps members. Still others, blending generations from the 90s to alumni fresh out of the corps, help regional staff members set priorities for community work that could have real impact on systems.
Building Bridges in Kansas City
In Kansas City, alumni are testing the reach of their network by asking themselves: If Teach For America ceased to bring corps members to the region, could alumni still leverage their experiences and relationships to effect change? Knitting together a network with staying power “is the charge of our board,” says Amanda Adreani (Kansas City ’15).
Adreani teaches choir and public speaking to middle and high school students at University Academy. She’s also a leader of Kansas City’s 12-member alumni leadership council, now in its second year, and a founding member of the PRISM board, which supports LGBTQ+ students and educators.
Leadership council members focused on meeting one-on-one with fellow alums to learn what issues were top of mind. “We were trying to identify, from our alums’ perspective, what the three biggest issues are around how to reach educational equity in the city,” Adreani says. They found other alums were “craving a space to discuss issues and problem-solve.”
During a recent corps member professional development day, the leadership council hosted an “unconference” on retaining teachers; school innovation; and equitable disciplinary policies. Some 100 alumni, corps members, and community leaders brainstormed.
Another goal of the council is to invite recent corps members into the family. “You have all of these opportunities during those first two years in the corps,” says Rachel Foster. She’s a 2015 Kansas City alum who leads an entrepreneurship program that connects students at Lee A. Tolbert Community Academy with volunteers who teach them business skills. “You’re constantly learning, going to grad school,” Foster says. “You have a dedicated space to develop yourself. Then all of a sudden you’re done and left wondering, ‘What do I do now?’”
Foster, Adreani, and other alumni council members show up at all-corps events and the “family dinners” the region organizes in different parts of town each month. Adreani says, “When corps members graduate into alumnihood, we want them to know who we are and how we can help.”
“Many alums have already established their social circles. Alumni are more interested in professional networking and opportunities to connect their work back to educational equity, especially if they are no longer working in education.”
Developing Leaders of Color in Massachusetts
The Massachusetts region is home to more than 2,200 alumni across the state, with a large concentration living in the Boston area. Alumni and corps members lead several boards in the region including a general alumni advisory board, a PRISM coalition, and a Homegrown board for alumni and corps members from Massachusetts. There’s also a regional chapter of The Collective that’s been active for five years, now with close to 200 members.
The Collective is Teach For America’s association for alumni of color. Mekka Smith (Miami–Dade ’07), who chairs the region’s Collective board, says she’s seen a growing interest in civic leadership since the last presidential election.
The theme of the Massachusetts Collective’s annual spring conference this year was #DoSomething: Disrupt the Cycle. Presenters from within and beyond the alumni network offered practical advice on stepping into politics, community organizing, and growing the number of educators of color.
“There are a lot of conversations happening around what our alums can do to disrupt the systems of inequity,” says Smith, who focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion in her job as chief of staff at KIPP Massachusetts. “This is a place where people want to play a role.”
Growing an LGBTQ+ Network in Alabama
Increasingly more regions are forming Prism coalitions, where corps members and alumni join forces to support students who identify as LGBTQ+ and to connect educators with resources. In Chicago-Northwest Indiana, graduate student Charlie Stock (Dallas-Fort Worth ’13) was among the four Prism chapter co-founders who originally met up last year in Milwaukee at the Teach For America LGBTQ+ Brave Education Summit. The Chi-NWI chapter hosted a kick-off event in May.
The Alabama PRISM board also formed last year. Co-founder Charity Jackson (Connecticut ’11) grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, came out when she went to Howard University, and has been teaching Spanish in Birmingham for six years at A. H. Parker High School.
The seven-member Alabama Prism board has hosted or joined events that bring together educators (some affiliated with Teach For America, some not) to form a network dedicated to creating what Jackson called “affirming” classrooms. The board hosted a showing for teachers of the film “Moonlight,” followed by a discussion of intersectionality.
Prism leaders also have become a resource for LGBTQ+ corps members and other teachers who are considering whether to teach in Alabama. As Jackson points out, it’s illegal in Birmingham to fire teachers for identifying as LGBTQ+. She says, “It’s awesome to have a space to talk about LGBTQ+ issues in Alabama.”
Creating Spaces to Engage in Washington State
Many alumni lived in Washington before Teach For America launched a region here in 2012. It’s now home to more than 1,000 alums, including Seattle-area transplants.
Stephen Pham (Bay Area ’12) is one of those. He moved from the Bay Area and is now an associate partner at The Learning Accelerator, where he tests and scales new approaches to teaching and learning. He serves on both the Washington alumni board and The Collective board, where leaders have discovered that local alums prefer substantive engagements over social events.
“Many alums have already established their social circles,” Pham says. “Alumni are more interested in professional networking and opportunities to connect their work back to educational equity, especially if they are no longer working in education.”
The alumni groups jointly launched a book club for corps members and alums that created “an opportunity to engage on bigger issues—race, equity, and the connection back to the community,” Pham says. Having finished Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, book club members recently read Educated by Tara Westover in anticipation of meeting to discuss over dinner before a talk Westover was giving in Seattle.