Give Back Through Teaching
By Amber Young '01
Amherst may be a small school, but the opportunities it creates are boundless. When I was a student here way back in 2001, I jumped into everything I could on campus — from running Amherst’s MassPIRG program to the Chicana/o Caucus to tutoring at El Arco Iris. Unconsciously perhaps, I was searching for the path my life would take after Amherst and figuring out what my purpose would be.

In my junior year, I decided to take Professor Cobham-Sanders’ class, “Reading, Writing and Teaching,” which included a required internship at Holyoke High School. Once inside the school, I noticed immediately that the Latino students were all in the ‘mainstream’ classes, while the advanced placemen and advanced classes were filled with white students. Although the students of color at Holyoke lived within a stone’s throw of some of the best universities in the world, few considered or were encouraged to consider college as a practical option.

My parents made many sacrifices to send my sister and me to a private school in Los Angeles because, as Mexican Americans, my mother did not want us to experience the same limited educational opportunities she had as a child. Looking around Holyoke High, it made me determined to become a teacher and to try to change the future for kids who, unlike me, may never have the opportunity to attend private school.

Lucky for me, Teach for America was recruiting on campus and offered a way to get into the classroom right after graduation. I asked to be placed in Southern California and ended up in Compton, Calif. In Compton, I was fortunate to have a visionary principal (a veteran of Teach for America) who was determined to prove that our students could learn at the highest levels despite their tough economic situation. Although I walked into a classroom of second graders who did not know how to read, I learned how to be relentless about helping my students reach academic success. After four years, our school had shed its low-performing label and became the first school in Compton to earn a California Distinguished School award.

From this experience, I saw the impact of great leadership in action and applied for the principal training program for Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools. In 2008, I founded KIPP Raíces (the name means ‘roots’ in Spanish), the first KIPP elementary school in California. The hope and determination of our 200 students and the dreams of their families inspire me each day.

Eight years after graduating from Amherst, I’m amazed to realize that I can trace everything I’ve done to the path I began through Teach For America. This year, another Amherst graduate, Chris Hofmann ’07, joined the teaching staff at KIPP Raíces Academy as a first-year Teach for America corps member. His path is just beginning and yours is still ahead. The next deadline for Teach For America is Feb. 19, 2010. It’s your chance to make an impact and live a life of consequence.

Issue 13, Submitted 2010-02-02 23:49:45