Toward Educational Equity: Three APU Graduates Commit to Teach for America

by Lucero Denisse Oceguera ’18

Children in extreme poverty are half as likely to graduate from high school and one-tenth as likely to graduate college as their counterparts in affluent communities. By eighth grade, these students are already close to three years behind their peers.1 Active teacher shortages in certain U.S. regions and subject areas compound these issues: When teachers are in short supply, students in high-poverty and high-minority settings feel the impact of their absence the strongest.2

This fall, three Azusa Pacific alumni and first-generation college graduates will enter or continue in the teaching field with the goal of addressing these inequalities head-on as corps members of Teach for America. The nonprofit has been equipping up-and-coming education leaders to counteract injustice in the nation’s school systems and increase opportunities for all students since 1989. “Teach for America is not a teacher training program, but a leadership strategy program working toward a means to end the equity problem in our schools,” said Ivy Quintero ’14, TFA recruitment manager. Corps members commit to teach for two years in urban and rural low-income public schools, partnering with communities most impacted by educational inequity, said Lauren Barber, TFA manager of prospect communications. The program has grown into an influential agent of change in the American education system.

Among the graduates who will become TFA corps members is Emily Ayala ’15, currently a substitute teacher in the Azusa Unified School District. Ayala planned to become a lawyer, but after discussions with her peers at APU challenged her, she began to consider the great need for educators to work for social justice here in her hometown and in Los Angeles-area schools. More than anyone, Ayala understood the depths of the challenge. “I went through this school system, so I know firsthand how far from simple these issues of access to quality materials and inequity of resources are,” she said.

There is no easy fix, but joining Teach for America meant Ayala could be part of working toward a solution. “Being in the classroom is where my heart is and is my form of activism,” she said. Ayala, who will teach special education this fall in Los Angeles, says students need mentors to help create opportunities for them, like those who first saw potential in her. “I want to be that for my students, because our neighborhoods create diamonds under pressure—that is what our students are.”

Jaqueline Lopez ’17 was a junior at APU when her journey toward education began to crystallize. “When I heard about TFA and the issue of equity in the classroom, it was something I never really considered as a kid,” she said. “It wasn’t until I started learning about it now, as a future educator, that I quickly realized I was a product of those inequities.”

As an English-as-a-second-language learner, Lopez remembers feeling singled out and that she was not given a chance to prove herself beyond her academic performance. That feeling drives her approach to teaching today. “If you want your students to come out of that classroom impacted, you have to care about more than just their grades and test scores and go beyond only feeding them information,” said Lopez, who will serve as an elementary school teacher in Las Vegas. “This is where TFA’s mission and my goals as an educator intersect.” Iris Ortiz ’16 will also join Lopez in the Las Vegas area as an elementary school teacher.

As TFA’s recruitment manager for L.A.’s private colleges and universities, Ivy Quintero ’14 manages on-campus programming and TFA’s presence for five local institutions, including APU. She meets regularly with juniors and seniors, helping them through the admission and interview process. “I look for graduates whose motivation aligns with the work we do, and then I help them bridge that gap,” she said.

Before becoming a recruiter for TFA, Quintero taught in Miami Dade County in Florida as a corps member. She worked in a school that had just absorbed another low-income school nearby and was in its first year of partnership with TFA. Quintero and the rest of the staff and administration were faced with many challenges. “I went in with a learner’s mindset recognizing that I was the outsider coming in and a learner before I ever was the teacher,” she said. “Yet, I told myself that if I wanted to create change, I had be in the trenches and start from the bottom up, never elevating myself above those in the community I was sent to make a difference in.” Quintero’s service in Miami was a window into what it means to be an invested teacher—it was a time of transformational learning and leading in the community. “My experience in Miami was everything,” she said.

As more APU graduates follow in Quintero’s footsteps and set out to further impact their school communities, they join a network of TFA corps members and alumni that is constantly growing. The majority of Teach For America corps members stay beyond their two-year commitment, and nearly two-thirds of TFA alumni remain in education full time. Graduate school and employment partnerships are also available to TFA alumni who complete their two-year service contract and want to continue to carry the organization’s mission into their chosen career path.

“For APU students motivated to create social change and cure social inequities, TFA is a platform for that change,” said Quintero. “Students at APU have a strong desire to be part of something bigger, and that is what we at Teach For America are looking for.”

Get to Know Teach for America

Teach For America’s mission is to enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation’s most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.

“At Teach For America, we recruit diverse and talented leaders who are committed to expanding opportunity for our nation’s highest-need children,” said Barber. After serving two years in their school assignment, many TFA alumni stay in education occupying teaching and administrative positions, while others continue their impact in fields ranging from law to business to medicine to policy and nonprofit work. Learn more at teachforamerica.org.

  • Lucero Denisse Oceguera ’18 is an editorial intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a sociology major and ethnic studies minor.

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