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North Central College alumni, faculty, staff and students celebrate 10 years of Teach First

Jun 15, 2018

Even with summer right around the corner, students at the 10th anniversary celebration for Teach First at North Central College can’t wait to go back to school.

Teach First was designed to educate and support the next generation of teachers, and is led by Julie Carballo, director of first generation programs and veteran and military student services coordinator at the College.

The program is open to any first-generation student pursuing a degree in education.

As the first in their family to seek a four-year degree, first-generation students benefit from a supportive community. Teach First eases the transition with workshops, mentoring and networking that help students become licensed teachers in Illinois.

Teach First was launched in 2008 by former Vice President for Enrollment Management, Athletics and Student Affairs Laurie Hamen, who wrote a grant proposal to the Walmart Foundation to secure two years of funding. Now the president of Mount Mercy University in Iowa, Hamen made the trip to celebrate the 10th anniversary (photo below).

Laurie Hamen standing to be recognized at the Teach First banquet.

“North Central envisions the Teach First program as a permanent fixture on our campus,” wrote Hamen in the initial proposal. “Our goal in implementing the Teach First program is to achieve excellence in educating and preparing first-generation students in the Chicago area for careers in education.”

Since 2011, Teach First has been partially supported by the Dunham Fund of Aurora, which provides scholarship support to students who plan to become educators in Aurora school districts. Additionally, Teach First awards a $1,000 renewable scholarship to aid aspiring teachers.

One of the defining features of the program has been classroom shadowing, which is required every year. Classroom shadowing allows students to learn about teaching firsthand, while also connecting them with local schools.

Courtney Phelps ’12, a second-grade teacher at Rollins Elementary in Aurora, joined the program when it first launched.

“I ended up falling in love with teaching after shadowing,” said Phelps. “It gave me a head start, and I had classmates who later told me they wished they were a part of Teach First.”

Since its beginning, the program has developed even more services to help students network with local educators and school districts.

Cherokee Imel ’19 is an elementary education major and pursuing a Learning Behavior Specialist 1 Endorsement, which is required for working with students with special needs.

“Teach First makes sure that every summer we work with kids,” said Imel. “It helps us develop a network and meet alumni, and has given me a lot of experience working in Naperville.”

The past 10 years have supported eighty-four Teach First graduates who are now teaching in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado and Texas. Students take advantage of this alumni network, and Teach First’s mentorship program pairs juniors and seniors with alumni mentors in local schools.

“We hope that the program can promote an exchange of information on aspirations, education-related topics and professionalism, as well as create a network of mentors among alumni and current students,” said Carballo.

Thanks to monthly professional communication over email, Teach First mentees have a point of contact for both professional and personal guidance. The program allows mentees to observe classes of their mentors, giving them more exposure to classroom life.

“I am most thankful for my kind mentor, Beth Pardo ’12,” said Karissa Dobson ’18. “Not only did she allow me to observe her class, she also helped connect me with an English Language Learner teacher for a practicum experience. Being in her classroom was such a wonderful experience because I got to see a full week of lessons and how a classroom is managed day to day before I began student teaching. I still have the letters she had her students write to me.”

The 10th anniversary banquet was a reminder of the success of not just the program, but of the students and alumni who shared their experiences with one another and their pride in their heritage.

“Being a first-generation student never really became something I was proud of until I joined Teach First,” said Michaela Reedy ’18 (photo below). “Now looking back, I am far from embarrassed.”