Teacher corps expands

National group moving into Charlotte, diversifying fundraising.

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. [03.02.04] — The North Carolina arm of Teach for America, a New York City-based nonprofit that sends college graduates into poor schools in 21 regions of the United States, is expanding into Charlotte and diversifying its fundraising.

One of the first six Teach for America regional offices launched in 1990, the North Carolina organization has grown from 40 teachers, known as corps members, to 120, all in eight poor northeastern counties.

The organization, which has placed more than 500 teachers in schools in those counties, aims by 2006 to have 150 there, up from 100 now, and another 150 in Charlotte, where it will place its first 50 corps members this fall.

The organization has depended mainly on corporate and foundation support to cover its $1.4 million annual budget, including big gifts from Wachovia and Progress Energy, and now is trying to enlist individual donors.

“In order to be sustainable year in and year out, it’s going to take the support of individuals,” says Eric Guckian, the affiliate’s executive director and a former corps member. “We are providing the schools with good, quality teachers, and we just want to continue to expand our web.”

Teach for America’s nearly 2,000 corps members, top graduates from top U.S. colleges and universities, teach for two years after a five-week summer program of research-based training that includes teaching in inner-city schools.

Teach for America aims both to spur dramatic gains in achievement by students in schools with high turnover, low student performance and high rates of poverty, and to develop corps members into “leaders for social change,” says Guckian, who is married to a former corps member who herself was taught by a corps member teaching in Warren County.

After initially assigning corps members to communities throughout the state, the Teach for America – North Carolina now concentrates them in the eight northeastern counties to make it easier to provide training and networking opportunities.

To build its presence in those counties, which themselves contribute $1,000 for each corps members, Teach for America has launched a “sponsor a teacher” campaign to recruit individuals or foundations to contribute $5,000 each to support one corps member.

Providing the affiliate’s biggest support so far have been Raleigh-based Progress Energy, which gave $100,000, the largest grant ever for a rural Teach for America site, and Wachovia, which has contributed $1 million raised at the Wachovia Championship golf tournament last May.

Half the Wachovia gift has been earmarked to recruit corps members this spring who will begin teaching in Charlotte this fall.

Teach for America also has received $100,000 from the Brader-Araje Foundation in Durham, $50,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem and $40,000 from North Carolina’s state AmeriCorps program.

Recruiting new donors will depend on spreading the word about the challenges that corps members face, and the impact they are having on student performance, Guckian says.

“There is a critical mass of individuals,” he says, “who would really benefit by learning what our corps members go through every day.”

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