South Louisiana Teach for America members from places as far as California and New York kicked off their first day on the job June 4 cleaning up the streets of Donaldsonville alongside Donaldsonville firefighters.
Although the geographic region each TFA member is placed in is ultimately decided by Teach for America staff, applicants get a bit of input when they rank the U.S. regions in their order of preference.
For 22-year-old Mary Catherine Kennelworth, from Missouri, South Louisiana was among her top preferences.
“My really close family friend lives here, and I’ve gotten to spend summers here, so that was part of the draw for me,” Kennelworth said. “Where I’m from in Missouri, there are a lot of culturally similar things, but the south and Louisiana in general has a much richer culture. Here strangers say hi, there you ignore people you don’t know, and it’s weird if you say hi to people you don’t know. It’s much more welcoming here.”
Kennelworth, who has a degree in psychology with a minor in public health, said this will be her first experience in the classroom on her own.
Kennelworth said she is expecting “for there to be a lot of adventure, trial and error.”
Teach for America arranges a project each year that helps introduce the teachers to their new surroundings. The firefighters pulled weeds and picked up trash while sharing stories about the city.
Joining the newbies was second-year TFA teacher Sarah Walsh, 26, from Monroe, New York, who is hoping to be assigned to a Donaldsonville-area school.
“Donaldsonville is wonderful, it’s my dream school. I’m hoping to work here next year. All the teachers who work for Donaldsonville always have great things to say about their schools,” said Walsh. “The culture is so different here, everyone is very rooted in Cajun Louisiana culture. New York is more of a melting pot-type where there are so many different people from so many different types of environments. It’s nice coming here and experiencing such a strong community of people all working toward the same thing.”
Nicole Berberet, a third-year TFA teacher from Yorba Linda, California, who works at Donaldsonville High, said she brought some of her students to the cleanup.
“I think it’s important to bring the kids out to see that there are people trying to help out their community, and they can be a part of that too,” she said. “I texted my AP kids, we’re really close-knit and involved. We did a lot of weekend study sessions, a lot of after-school sessions and we’re all going to grab lunch after this.”
During her time teaching in Donaldsoville, Berberet became involved with several of the school’s sports teams as well as with student life.
Jordan Hudson is a 22-year-old first-year TFA member from Orlando, Florida.
She explained that although she was a criminology and law major in college, one of her college mentors turned her on to teaching.
“I was very young, a junior in college, and the professor I had for one of the first classes I had ever taken, she and I kind of clicked. I was going trough a rough time with transitioning, and she started mentoring me and became like a role model. She taught me all I really need to know about teaching, and showed me I really wanted to get involved in it.”
Hudson decided to apply for TFA after hearing a student mention it in her class.
“I thought, ‘I’ve heard of Teach for America, and I think I want to try that.’ I applied and it gave me the opportunity to see that there are changes that need to be made,” Hudson said. “I hadn’t really recognized the inequality in education until I stepped into the life of Teach for America and integrated myself.”