Posted on Thursday, December 01, 2011
In a process so competitive that a recent New York Times article compared admittance to getting into an Ivy League graduate program, Lucia Berliner '12, Kristen Kush '12, Charlotte Lysohir '12 and Gideon Porter '12 have each been selected by Teach for America for a two-year term. After graduation, the four Hobart and William Smith students will be placed by Teach for America to work in high-poverty public schools throughout the country. They were chosen from thousands of applicants who competed in a rigorous process that included a lengthy application, a phone interview, a presentation of a lesson plan, a personal interview, a written test and a monitored group discussion with several other applicants. In recent years, the nonprofit has accepted less than 10 percent of its applicants. In the past decade, 20 HWS students have been accepted to the program, 12 of them just since 2009.
"The acceptance of our four students into Teach for America is a testament to their hard work and dedication as well as to the Colleges' focus on nurturing 21st century leaders who will positively impact our world," says President Mark D. Gearan. "I join with the campus in congratulating them on this well-deserved accomplishment."
Berliner, a double major in psychology and media and society with a minor in studio art, is heading south to the Mississippi Delta, where she will follow in the footsteps of her parents and many in her family who are teachers. For the past decade, Berliner has spent most summers working with preschoolers at The Randolph School in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. "When I learned that Teach for America recently started an Early Child Education program I was sold and I had to apply," she says. "Right now I'm in love with the idea of being able to teach in the south."
While at HWS, Berliner co-created an afterschool program at the Geneva Community Center on environmental stewardship. "Ryan Kincaid '11 and I designed the program so that each day of the week focused on connecting to the environment in a different way, for example through art, adventure or hands on learning. It was a really tremendous learning experience." In addition, Berliner works for Admissions and is a member of Arts Collective and Learn2Lead Pod. She is also involved in planning the Arts Experience, an inclusive festival to celebrate disability and the arts. Last semester, she led the afterschool program, Eco Fusion, and was a house manager for the Global Perspectives theme house.
A chemistry major with a double minor in psychology and health professions, Kush has been placed in the Greater Newark, N.J., area as a high school chemistry teacher. Kush's decision to apply was influenced by her time at the Colleges, where she serves as a chemistry teaching fellow and a volunteer at Neighbors Night, a weekly program for elementary-aged children at St. Peter's Church in Geneva, N.Y.
"Both Neighbors Night and my roles as a chemistry teaching fellow are the highlights of my week. From my experiences as a teaching fellow, I've found that I enjoy teaching and I am good at it. Neighbors Night has inspired my desire to help others," Kush says.
Kush is a strong advocate for Teach for America's goal to improve educational equality across the country. "Teach for America is all about closing the achievement gap which definitely has to be a group effort," says Kush. "I would like to start small and get just a few students excited about chemistry."
On campus, Kush is a forward on the William Smith Herons basketball team; she was elected to the 2010-11 Capital One Academic All-America® Women's Basketball College Division second team, making her the third Heron basketball player to earn Academic All-America® honors. Additionally, she plays trumpet in the Colleges' brass ensemble.
Lysohir, a double major in urban studies and sociology with a minor in studio art, will head to Washington, D.C. after graduation to begin her two-year service commitment. She credits the education she received at Hobart and William Smith for influencing her decision to work for Teach for America.
"I have studied and learned much about social inequity and crisis," says Lysohir. "In my third year, I started to realize a pattern or cycle was emerging - many, if not all of these social ills seemed to stem from a lack of education. Once I had determined this as the main catalyst for these civil disparities, I decided I had to be a part of the solution."
Lysohir hopes to eventually work in the field of urban education policy or curriculum studies, and believes that it is important to gain a few years of teaching experience in public school classrooms. "There are multiple ways of reaching for success, and just as I plan to discover new methods, I hope to expose my students to the many different paths to academic achievement," says Lysohir. "I hope to create an educational environment that is both safe and inspiring for my students, where we can be open to reciprocal learning - as I am sure they know lots of things I do not."
At Hobart and William Smith, Lysohir is a leader in the Arts Collective, co-chair of fund raising for Relay for Life and staff photographer for Project Eye-to-Eye. She also works as a tech fellow at the Digital Learning Center in the library where she supports classes that require multimedia projects.
Porter, a political science major and writing colleagues minor, will go west to Kansas City, where he will teach with a focus on special education. "I had learning disabilities when I was very young and my mom works in special education, so I feel very strongly about working in the field," says Porter. "It is personal for me. People have told these kids that they cannot learn, that they cannot succeed. That is unacceptable to me and we should not accept that in America. It is my job to prove the cynics wrong -everyone can learn, no matter their background."
At Hobart and William Smith, Porter has served as a teaching assistant for Associate Professor of Education Kimberly Williams and Assistant Professor of Education Khuram Hussain. "I learned a lot about education and teaching from those experiences and they have been a big influence in why I was drawn to apply to Teach for America," says Porter. "Teach for America allows recent grads to make a large impact by creating an America where every child, no matter his or her background, has a fair shot at life."
At HWS, Porter is a writing colleague and a co-founder of the HWS Educational Second Chances Program at Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum security men's prison located in Romulus, N.Y., operated by New York State. Through the program, HWS students will serve as teaching assistants for inmates.
Additional Hobart and William Smith seniors have applied to Teach for America; selected candidates will be announced as the students are notified.
In the photo above, Lucia Berliner '12, Kristen Kush '12, Charlotte Lysohir '12 and Gideon Porter '12 meet with Amanda Ward '11, who is currently teaching in Memphis, Tenn., through Teach for America.