Teach For America

Pearl Chang Esau speaks to a crowd at the Sun City West Foundation Building Monday afternoon. Esau is the executive director of Teach For America Phoenix who gave a presentation which discussed Teach for America and the public education system in Arizona.

Photos by Dave Martinez/Daily News-Sun

Pearl Esau told a Sun City West audience this week that educational excellence and equity must become Arizona’s most pressing priority.

“Teach For America has become a sought-out partner to raise the bar for student achievement and catalyze education reform across the state,” said Esau, Teach For America Phoenix executive director. “Together with our community partners, we will ensure that our children receive the education they deserve and need if we are to build the Arizona that we know we can become.”

Residents of the Sun Cities and Surprise were invited to Monday’s meeting in Sun City West to find out more about Teach for America and the public education system in Arizona and learn how they can play a significant role in improving education.

Teach For America officials maintain the attitudes from school administrators, teachers and parents who say upbringing, and social and economic status determines a child’s fate during their formative years is hurting many of their chances in becoming the next success story.

Esau said the “epidemic of low expectations” in low-income areas throughout the United States often solidifies attitudes about how families living below the poverty line and who have never attended college cannot escape the life path they inevitably pass onto their children.

The United States ranks 24th in education achievement, while the state of Arizona is near the bottom compared to the other 49 states. Esau said an estimated 14 million children live in poverty across the United States — and only 1 in 10 of those children go on to college.

Teach For America officials and corps members, who serve as teachers, told the Sun City West audience that they hope to “bridge the gap” and improve the state of education in Arizona by ensuring all students receive the tools needed to succeed.

Many in attendance said they had never heard of Teach For America prior to attending the presentation and wished to know more about what role the organization has on the communities it serves. While Teach For America’s mission has remained the same since its inception 21 years ago, ongoing political strife and economic challenges are hurdles the nonprofit must continue to overcome. Support by way of donations and promotion can help Teach For America sustain itself, officials said.

Teach For America is expected to lose $21 million from its $880 million operating budget next year, according to Esau. In Arizona, the operating budget will decrease by an estimated 40 percent.

Valley schools that partner with Teach For America are primarily in the Phoenix area, though Esau said plans to expand to the West Valley is something the nonprofit is striving to achieve. The closest school with Teach For America corps members is Imagine Prep at Surprise.

Brian Holman, Teach For America’s program director, is a former eighth-grade social studies teacher who talked about how through lesson planning he was able to have his students learning two grade levels ahead of their peers.

“My job was to instill hope and opportunity through education. It’s amazing the way kids and teachers can bond,” he said. “It takes communities holding schools accountable to ensure success. To change a child’s life outcome and trajectory, you have to be with them year after year.”

After a long stint with Teach For America, Holman said he plans to leave and open a charter school in the Valley, where he will “set the bar high.”

“It’s about providing hope and that there’s something to look forward to,” Holman said.

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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