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Looking Ahead to Her First Year as a Corps Member

Rachel Candaso reflects on her current role as a paraprofessional in a small charter school, and her expectations for her first year with Teach For America Eastern North Carolina. 

Rachel Candaso with friends at the AANHPI Summit

May 19, 2020

Rachel Candaso is a 2020 incoming corps member who will be teaching and leading in Eastern North Carolina. She graduated in December 2019 from Arizona State University with a bachelor of science in political science and a bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice. Currently, she's working as a paraprofessional at a small K-6 charter school in Arizona. We spoke to Rachel about her experience with distance learning as a paraprofessional, and her feelings about being part of Teach For America in the upcoming school year. 

How are you operating differently at work due to COVID-19? 

My work life has drastically changed as a result of COVID-19 because I now am facilitating distance learning for all of my SPED (Special Education) students. Since mid-March, I have been working from home as I try to accommodate SPED services into an online environment. With Arizona schools closed for the rest of the school year, my school has students attending virtual lessons each day in reading, writing, and math. For me, this has meant that I am spending each day hosting live sessions with my students to help them with their classwork by modifying their general education lessons and assignments. I have 23 students in first through sixth grade who I sadly will not see again in person, but who still make the effort each day to get on the computer to work with me.

What is something you are struggling with?

With the COVID-19 crisis, my biggest challenge has been avoiding burnout. It feels like since the start of Arizona’s stay at home order, my life has been sent into hyperdrive. In a one-week span, I had to shift my physical classroom into a virtual format, and try to navigate a way for SPED services to occur remotely. On top of this, I have had to immerse myself in each of my students' general education classroom to keep up with what they were learning and the assignments they were getting to ensure that everything was being modified to meet their abilities. Distance learning has been overwhelming at times, but whenever I feel like I am drowning, I just take a moment to remind myself that this is all new territory for everyone and that I am doing my best.

Given our current moment in time, what do you see as the impact on educational equity? 

Distance learning is not equitable for all. The reality is that inequities have existed in our educational system since its formation, but in this present moment, these inequities are heightened and have multiplied. Transitioning to distance learning brought inequities like food instability and technological access to the forefront. Even when these challenges were addressed by schools through meal and computer distributions, the question became: how do we ask children to take on the responsibility of performing in their education when they are experiencing trauma and accessing inadequate learning approaches? As educators, we must ask ourselves: Are we just creating busy work in order to pull grades or are we finding a way to engage our students both academically and socially emotionally as well?  

“Distance learning has been overwhelming at times, but whenever I feel like I am drowning, I just take a moment to remind myself that this is all new territory for everyone and that I am doing my best.”

Rachel Candaso

Eastern North Carolina Corps Member 2020

How are you feeling about joining Teach For America?

With all that has happened thus far, my commitment to Teach for America has only strengthened. In this period of social distancing, I have watched leaders across the Teach For America network go above and beyond their duties to make sure that they are supporting their students, peers, and communities. It has been so exciting to watch Teach For America corps members and alumni come up with innovative ways to stay connected with their students and continue the learning.

In Edgecombe County, I have seen through social media how North Edgecombe High School and Phillips Middle School have utilized their bus routes to make food deliveries and drop off printed copies of assignments for students who live in very remote areas. The response the Eastern North Carolina region has had to this crisis deeply resonates with my own core commitment and I am so grateful that I will soon be a part of a region that unites together during even the toughest moments.  

In what ways has Teach For America supported you as you begin your transition into the corps? 

Personally, the Teach For America network from national to regional, has greatly supported me through this difficult period. Right before the COVID-19 outbreak in the US took hold, I had attended the Teach For America AANHPI (Asian America, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander) conference in Oakland, California. It was a unique opportunity to attend such an event when xenophobia towards people of AANHPI identities was on the rise. I left the conference with a new community to lean on and process all of the changes that have happened since we met.

In addition to the conference, I’ve received support from my recruiters at Arizona State University, who put together multiple Teach For America celebration Zoom meetings for all of us who have been accepted. Also, I attend a weekly Zoom with my regional onboarding team, including Executive Director Andrew Lakis and fellow incoming corps members to check-in and process each week. These spaces have been a great way for me to connect openly with my peers and reflect on this transition. Most of all, my opportunity to speak with Teach For America’s CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard about my experience during this period was extremely important to me because it shows how much the Teach For America network cares about its members. To be able to make that connection and share space with someone who I look up to, has greatly deepened my appreciation for this program and the support they have shown me from the beginning. 

I cannot wait to start summer institute and continue to make connections with people and build community through a program that remains focused on furthering educational equity.