A Teacher’s Story
“The Right to Have a Fair Chance: Brown v. Board of Education.” “Human Rights Violations During the Rwandan Genocide.” “Segregation in South Africa: Nelson Mandela’s Story.” These titles represent a few examples of the History Day projects Justine Bjergo’s high school students presented at the second annual Metro Schools History Day competition in March.
Having trained as a social studies teacher in college, Justine joined Teach For America because she knew she wanted to teach in a low-income community and would benefit from the added support the program provides.
Last year, Justine brought History Day to Metro Schools in Minneapolis for the first time. Justine had volunteered as a Minnesota History Day judge in college and had learned how the competition opened doors of opportunity for participating students through college scholarships and exposure to valuable research skills.
She also noticed that participation in History Day seemed limited to students from more affluent communities with well-resourced International Baccalaureate programs. Metro had only 25 computers for their 170 students, and limited transportation options for students staying after school to work on projects.
But that didn’t stop Justine, who wanted her students—the majority of whom are recent immigrants and refugees from countries such as Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen—to experience the level of rigor expected of History Day scholars.
“Students are staying after school every day to prepare for regionals. They love the competitive aspect of History Day,” says Justine, who makes regular trips to the craft store to buy project supplies for her students, and has organized Saturday trips to the Minneapolis Central Library, where History Day staff and librarians help students with research.
“I wanted to give students the freedom to choose topics they are excited about, which has really increased their engagement—and confidence—in class.”
Justine is a Teach For America corps member—one of 72 dedicated to expanding educational opportunities for students growing up in low-income communities across the Twin Cities.
About the Twin Cities Region
While Minnesota ranks among the top states on a wide variety of livability measures, including overall educational attainment, student achievement results indicate that our state suffers from massive disparities in educational outcomes by race and class. In 2011, for example, Minnesota’s four-year high school graduation rate ranked 49th out of 50 states among black or African American students—and was 50th among Latino and American Indian students (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).
Our vision is that by 2020, we can ensure 15,000 more low-income students of color in the Twin Cities are in transformational classrooms that will put them on a path of expanded opportunities. We know the critical ingredient is leadership—in classrooms, at great schools, at the school district level, and as citizens and policymakers shaping the public discussion. Corps members and nearly 500 local alumni are part of a growing movement of leaders working to ensure that all Twin Cities kids have access to a great education.