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20 Years of Working Shoulder-to-Shoulder

As Teach For America celebrates its 20th anniversary in Chicago-Northwest Indiana, Executive Director Aneesh Sohoni shares how the community works to ensure that all children receive an excellent education.

January 14, 2020

A group of teachers stand together.

In September of 2000, our first corps of 40 teachers entered classrooms across Chicago. It was a different time for the city. Just over half of Chicago Public Schools students were graduating from high school. College graduation within five years of enrollment was in the single digits. We were at the dawn of a new century, but it was difficult to feel like we were truly moving forward. Still, 40 young people decided to sign up for then a relatively unknown program, and do their best to make a difference in the lives of students across Chicago.

That was 20 years ago. And though there is still so much farther to go, we have made incredible progress. Across the country, school districts are looking to Chicago as an exemplar. We have hit record-high school graduation and college enrollment rates, and our students are making the fastest progress of the top 100 urban school districts in the United States. And through it all, Teach For America’s community has steadily grown. Today, we have over 3,400 corps members and alumni working in our region as teachers, principals, entrepreneurs and advocates, bringing passion and innovation to help overcome our city’s biggest challenges. Eighty-five percent of our members are serving low-income communities, Working Shoulder-to-Shoulder with those inside and outside of our network to deepen progress.

This phrase, Working Shoulder-to-Shoulder, holds special meaning for us. As we kick off our 20th year in the region, we’ve been conducting an extensive listening tour with students, parents, and educators. We’ve heard what’s working and what needs to change to ensure each of our students have access to an excellent education. These conversations were challenging because they reminded us how many students we’re still leaving behind. But they also lit a fire within us, inspiring us to push harder, go farther, take risks, and think differently. And as with everything we do at Teach For America, we know that to create change, we need to work in partnership. We need to work shoulder-to-shoulder.

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are launching this phrase as our new regional slogan. We believe it gets to the heart of how we drive progress. Change requires a broad and diverse coalition of people united around a common purpose. This is what we teach our corps members and alumni, and in turn, this is what our corps members and alumni teach us every day.

This is why we need you to join us in this work. Throughout the year, we will be celebrating this milestone through events and storytelling, which will include the unveiling of our next strategic plan. We hope you’ll follow along, and feel inspired to learn and grow alongside us, as always, shoulder-to-shoulder.