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From Eye to Eye to Teach For America: An Interview with Alum Kevin Kent
Middle school was a challenging time for Teach For America alum Kevin Kent (Rio Grande Valley ’12). But thanks to a strong support system, he was able to overcome his obstacles, including a reading disability, and later decided to pay it forward. While attending Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Kevin became a mentor though Eye to Eye, a network of youth mentoring programs run by and for those with learning differences, and eventually became a chapter coordinator.
After graduation, Kevin continued on his path of student mentorship and joined Teach For America in the Rio Grande Valley. He earned his master’s degree in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard University, and today works as a research specialist at the Science of Learning and Education Technology lab at Arizona State University. We recently sat down with Kevin to talk about his path from Eye to Eye to Teach For America.
TFA: How did you decide to join Eye to Eye? And what was your path to Teach For America?
Kevin: I wanted to do something that had an impact that extended beyond me. When I heard about Eye to Eye, I realized I hadn’t really shared my experience growing up with a reading disability. I got into college and didn’t need to think about it anymore. Because of the support I got in high school, I thought it would be really great to share my story with younger students who were going through similar struggles. Eye to Eye exposed me to how psychology impacts education, so I began to take more classes and explore those concepts. I began to think that I would enjoy teaching and mentoring after graduation, which led me to Teach For America.
TFA: How have your personal life experiences shaped your career path?
Kevin: In middle school, academics started getting really tough for me, especially with reading and writing. At the end of eighth grade, I found out I had a reading disability. My parents had the financial means to send me to boarding school, where I built back up my confidence and closed the gap with those skills I was missing. After that experience, writing became my favorite thing to do.
I know there are a lot of students in this country who aren’t able to receive the same support and attention I received. Based on my experience, there’s no reason that someone with a learning disability shouldn’t be able to excel in school.
TFA: How did your service with Eye to Eye prepare you to be a leader with Teach For America?
Kevin: Eye to Eye helped me own my own story and feel confident sharing my experiences with my students. On my first day of teaching, I talked openly about growing up with a reading disability, and it started a great culture in my classroom. It was so important because students with disabilities often feel marginalized at school. It’s hard not to have those labels impact how you think about yourself.
TFA: What has been your biggest inspiration to continue working in the education field?
Kevin: First, I have really enjoyed research. I think education benefits a lot from the lens of cognitive science and how that applies to learning. I think it can be powerful to design learning and education policy around those concepts and frameworks. Secondly, it always comes back to my own experience and the kids I taught. I want to make education better for everyone. I want every student to go to school and leave school feeling empowered and accepted, and knowing they can pursue any career path. Especially for kids with learning disabilities, it can be challenging to feel that way.