The BYU/Teach for America connection

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The majestic sign standing at the entrance of BYU proudly displays a phrase which BYU students try to live by: “Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.”

Stuart Jackson, a recent graduate of BYU from Plymouth, Minn., fulfilled this motto through an opportunity that arose after his plans for law school fell through. Not sure what step to take next, he recalled a program his friend mentioned—Teach For America.

Teach For America is a program that partners with communities nationwide to expand educational opportunities for children dealing with the challenges of poverty. The group entrusted with this task consists of recruits from graduating classes of universities across the nation.

Stuart Jackson teaches children in a classroom

Throughout Teach For America’s 22-year history, more than 108 BYU alumni have served in the program. Thanks to service of this past year’s BYU participants, BYU was rated 15 out of 20 in the list of top contributing universities according to Teach For America’s latest ratings release.

As one of the BYU participants, Jackson said he is learning and growing personally through this experience. He sees this program as his opportunity to make a difference in the world.

“It’s an eye-opening experience that is making me a more mature and experienced and capable citizen of the country,” Jackson said. “I really see Teach For America as my service in the same way that joining the army is a service. It is something I’m doing for the country. It really gives me a deep satisfaction, knowing that I’m helping in some way to improve the life of kids in this country who didn’t have the same things I did growing up.”

Jackson said he has enjoyed working with students in the schools as well as the other corps members. He said the program provided many missionary experiences as well because they were able to be examples. He described inviting non-members to join the LDS group on their late-night Yogurtland runs.

“It was a way for us to bond, and it took us back to Provo, which we really missed,” Jackson said. “Eventually we had a lot of people who weren’t members of the Church coming to Yogurtland with us.”

Teach For America is said to be very challenging and rigorous. Jackson said his personal experience has been difficult, but worthwhile because he went for the right reasons.

“This is one of the hardest things I have ever done,” Jackson said. “I felt I applied for the right reasons, but at one point, I even wondered what I was doing here. If you’re not here for the right reasons, you’re likely to have a hard time. There were a lot of people that dropped out. If you’re here for the right reasons, you see past that and keep working.”

Adam Wilson, a 2008 BYU alumnus who is now a recruiter for Teach For America, also served in the program. He said the program can be compared to a boot camp.

“The training part was probably the most difficult for me. We worked long hours for five weeks to get prepared to teach in a classroom. It is a very boot-campesque experience,” Wilson said. “For those five weeks, I wondered if I would be able to make it to the next day.”

Wilson said Teach For America looks for graduates who are ready to accept this important challenge. As one who accepted the challenge, Jackson said the learning environment at BYU helped prepared him for the experience and gave him a deeper motivation for serving.

“I feel that at BYU we learn that the glory of God is intelligence. That is something that has a lot of implications for our education and our careers,” he said. “That is what BYU did for me.”

According to an interview with Gaby Barahona, the regional communications manager for Teach For America, applicants to the program are evaluated based on their leadership experiences and their passion for education equality. Barahona also said the many leadership opportunities available to BYU students on campus help them in Teach for America.

“What we look for in our applicants is seniors that exhibit a lot of leadership and perseverance,” she said. “Given all of the leadership opportunities that BYU students have and can take advantage of, we definitely continue to recruit there and be thankful that all of them are interested in Teach For America.”

As a top contributor to Teach For America, BYU is truly fulfilling its mission to help its students serve communities across the nation and the world.

“I’m really happy to see BYU climb up this list,” said Wilson. “It demonstrates that BYU students care about the community and service, not just within the LDS community, but in the nation at large. It really demonstrates that BYU is able to play a role on a national scale addressing what I believe is a huge injustice and problem for our nation.”

Jackson interacts with children during his time with “Teach For America.”

Members commit two years to teach in high-need schools and develop themselves as lifelong leaders in the movement to end educational inequality. For more information about applications and deadlines, visit the organization’s homepage.

As a final challenge, Jackson encouraged his fellow BYU students to join him on this service journey and to consider applying to Teach For America as their way to “go forth to serve.”

“I really believe Teach For America is a good organization that is directly or indirectly affecting the lives of a lot of young students in a positive way,” Jackson said. “(Education inequality) is a big problem, and I think students from BYU are extremely qualified and really fit what the solution is, what the solution needs.”

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