Expanding Educational Opportunity in Los Angeles
Teach For America has partnered with the Los Angeles community for nearly three decades to expand educational opportunities for the city’s most vulnerable students.
May 2, 2019
In 1990, Teach For America began partnering with children, families, and educators in the Los Angeles region. As of 2019, there are 3,500 alumni and corps members living and working in the Los Angeles region. This network includes 810 alumni teachers, 105 principals, and 34 school system leaders.
Teach For America leaders have worked to accelerate change in Los Angeles’ education system for 28 years. Many of these leaders have deep roots in the city, having grown up in the same communities where they now live and work.
Here are a few stories from members of the TFA network and the organizations and schools where they lead. They share a love for Los Angeles and an unwavering commitment to improving outcomes for the region’s students.
Partnership For Los Angeles Schools
In L.A. Unified School District there are about 650,000 students, 84 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch. There are about 92 languages spoken, and 25 percent of students speak English as a second language.
As an educator, Tanya Franklin sees the beauty in all the diversity. Tanya is currently the senior director at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. She joined the 2005 Los Angeles corps after college, motivated to make a difference after learning that only one out of ten students of color from a low-income background graduate from college. “I knew that that was going to be my life calling,” she says.
Tanya joined the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools after teaching for five years, because she felt the organization had a very strong alignment with Teach For America’s mission. The Partnership aims to transform schools and revolutionize school systems to empower all students with a high-quality education. The organization oversees 18 Los Angeles Unified schools across South L.A., Boyle Heights, and Watts.
Marcus Hughes (Metro Atlanta ’03) grew up and attended school in Watts, a community where his family has lived for generations. He now serves Coordinator of Teacher Development at the Partnership. “I'm able to work with teachers, principals, and counselors, and really figure out how can we create a quality education for these students.”
KIPP Raíces Academy
The night before KIPP Raíces opened its doors, Amber Young Medina (Los Angeles ’01) was cleaning the floors, scrubbing the toilet, and making sure the school felt like a warm and beautiful place to welcome students and families. Amber is the founder and managing director of academics at KIPP Raíces, a school that operates out of an empty Catholic church building. Raíces means “roots,” which is the vision Amber had in mind when she founded the school in 2009.
The school opened with about 200 students and now has 570 students attending. Many of the original staff continue to work at the school, including Yesenia Castro (New York ’07), a founding first-grade teacher who now serves as principal.
TFA corps members and alumni remain deeply committed to the school, serving as teachers and administrators and working in partnership with the community to expand opportunities for kids of Los Angeles.
As a student growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Josephine Pineda (Los Angeles ’12) always wanted someone from her community to tell her, "You can do this." Josephine now teaches middle school science at Alliance College Republic Schools--the same school she attended as a high-schooler, as part of Alliance’s first class of students. Her perspective on how tough it was to live in and grow up in South Central, has helped her to forge deep relationships with her students, and to be the community role model that she once longed for.
This summer, Josephine observed TFA corps members teaching her former students who are now 11th graders. Her students still fondly remember her and credit her for getting them excited about science and math.
Jonathan Tiongco is the founding principal and CEO at Alliance. He says that teachers from TFA come in with a clear “Why.” “It's for equity, social justice, a generational change,” he says. “When they have that clear ‘Why,’ it makes the work so much stronger.”
The Strength of the TFA Network
Benjamin Cervantes (Los Angeles ’18) recalls the Teach For America teachers who taught him during his high school years. “They were young, really enthusiastic about what they wanted to teach. I really liked them.”
Benjamin now teaches special education at Huntington Park High School and sees how the scale of the TFA network has impacted his school. He works alongside a second-year corps member who is pursuing a master’s degree in special education, and his special education coordinator is also a TFA alum. “To be a TFA teacher means that you are there every single day, to support your students regardless of how hard the job can be,” he says.
As part of the TFA network in Los Angeles, Benjamin is connected to 3,500 alumni and corps members who inspire and support each other, and who share a commitment to working towards what's best for kids. This network has proven to a huge catalyst for systemic change
“To have Teach For America still here after 28 years, it means that our impact just keeps widening,” says Yesenia Castro, who has worked at KIPP Raíces Academy for 10 years. “This mission is so important, so we’re still working. We’re working really hard.”