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The TFA Jacksonville Network in Action

See how TFA alums at First Coast High School are making a difference.

By Amanda Cagan

August 24, 2020

Want an example of the power of the TFA network? At First Coast High School (FCHS) there are five Teach For America alumni teachers, an alumna serving as assistant principal, and an alumnus representing FCHS on the Duval County School Board. Since 2014, First Coast has increased its school letter grade from a “C” to a “B” and now sports a 94.9 percent graduation rate.

Many of the Teach For America alumni working at First Coast collaborate as colleagues in the English department. “On our team we have a shared purpose, because we come from the same TFA background,” says Amelea Gray, who is entering her seventh year in the classroom. “We came to Jacksonville to make sure all kids get an equitable education and there is that underlying drive we all share.”

Teachers of First Coast High School

In the 2019-2020 school year, FCHS staff used this shared purpose and passion to design a program supporting students in danger of slipping through the cracks. Instead of using their planning periods to grade papers, they pulled students from each other's classrooms and provided targeted, small group instruction. “It was a powerful program that helped more students become proficient,” Amelea  says. “Because we come from a TFA background we know how important it is to go the extra mile for students.”

This network of shared values and support extends beyond the English department. Amelea is now pursuing her master’s degree in educational leadership from Columbia University’s Summer Principal Academy (SPA) in hopes of becoming a school leader. It was FCHS assistant principal Jovana Hackman, a 2010 TFA Jacksonville corps member and herself a Columbia SPA graduate, who served as the inspiration.

“She cares so much and you can see it in her work ethic every day. She holds the students at FCHS to high expectations and they know she cares about them,” Amelea says. “She gave me a confidence boost that really inspired me to apply to SPA, and really helped me through the process.”

Even more support for FCHS comes in the form of Duval County School Board Member and Teach For America alumnus Darryl Willie, who represents the district in which First Coast is located. “He will come to visit the classrooms to really get an idea of what students and teachers need,” Amelea says. “Having that level of support for my students is really powerful.”

With a multi-layered network of support already paying dividends at First Coast, we look forward to new Teach For America teachers joining the FCHS team in the 2020-21 school year, deepening the existing partnership and accelerating the progress in student outcomes.