North Central College Teach First program inspires future educators

Jun 23, 2014

A North Central College program that helps prepare future educators is serving as a model for a new program to improve opportunities for all the College’s first-generation students.

Teach First—which aims to recruit and retain first-generation college students who want to become teachers—was launched at North Central in 2008. Six years later it’s serving as a model for Cardinal First that launches in fall 2014.

“Forty percent of all our students are the first in their families to attend college,” says Julie Carballo, who headed the Teach First program and who now directs First-Generation Programs, including Cardinal First. “Cardinal First will adopt some of the interactive workshops, mentoring and networking components that have helped make the Teach First program so successful.”

A first-generation college student is defined as a student whose parents or legal guardians have not completed a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university.

Seven students completed North Central College’s Teach First program and graduated in spring 2014. Five of the seven have secured teaching positions for fall 2014 and the other two will complete their student-teaching requirements during the fall. Of the five with jobs, two are Dunham Scholars—recipients of financial awards from the Aurora-based Dunham Fund—and have accepted teaching positions at high-need schools in Aurora.

“My ultimate dream is to inspire my students to make a positive change in the world, but first of all in the Aurora community,” says Dunham Scholar and Aurora native Abel Sanchez ’14, a Spanish and secondary education major. He will teach Spanish beginning this fall at West Aurora High School.

Teach First is helping first-generation students like Dunham Scholar Guadalupe Gallardo Escobedo ’14 realize their dreams of graduating from college and becoming teachers.

“Being a nontraditional-first-generation college student means creating a new path for education and career opportunities,” says Escobedo, an elementary education major. She has accepted a position as a bilingual teacher at Johnson Elementary School in East Aurora School District 131. “This degree is a dream I never had for myself. It is a dream that my parents never had for me, but now is a possibility I have established for my children.”

North Central College alumni who are pursuing careers as educators serve as mentors to current Teach First students. Twenty-five alumni returned to the College in June for an end-of-year reception and networking event where the seven 2014 Teach First graduates spoke about their experiences.

“Working at East Aurora High School every D-Term taught me that I can make a difference where I am needed. Students actually care about your experience in college even more if they know your background is similar to theirs,” says Laura Avila ’14 of Des Plaines, a history/secondary education major who will student teach in fall 2014.

The ultimate goal of Teach First is to increase the graduation rate among first-generation students. Teach First provides the networking experiences, mentorship and resources to launch these students into a successful teaching career.

From the moment their college career begins, Teach First students become part of a support network of peers, professors and professional educators. The students meet with the Teach First director regularly throughout the academic year to discuss how they’re adjusting to college life and any challenges they’re facing in the classroom.

“Teach First has provided me with opportunities for mentorship, volunteerism and development as an educator. From helping out at local shelters to participating in professional development, all the experiences have played a major role in the educator I am today,” says Martyna Waszkielewicz ’14 of Glendale Heights, an elementary education major with an English language learning minor. She’s accepted a fourth-grade teaching position at North Elementary School in Des Plaines School District 62.

North Central was asked to talk about the success of its Teach First program at the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC)/Walmart Foundation Symposium on First-Generation College Students in Baltimore July 7-9. Teach First was launched at North Central with a two-year grant from the Walmart Foundation.

Teach First is among programs that have helped build a reputation of excellence for North Central’s teacher- and principal-preparation programs because of the strength of field experiences for students, networking connections with alumni and partnerships with area schools.