November 26, 2018
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Lexi Bollis ’17 found herself back in a kindergarten classroom just months after graduating from Kenyon. She always knew she wanted to work with children, so the opportunity to do so with Teach for America (TFA) seemed perfect. “I came to education because I’ve always really loved working with kids—TFA’s mission for fighting for educational equity for all children, no matter what, really spoke to me.”
For Lexi, the focus on becoming a teacher started just before her senior year. “I was thinking about people that I had looked up to during my time at Kenyon, and one of them did Teach for America,” she says. Upon seeing that the first deadline was approaching, Lexi knew she had to apply. TFA’s application process is extensive and thorough, and Lexi got a glimpse of the program’s rigor by writing a personal statement, teaching a mini lesson, and interviewing one-on-one and in a group.
During the application process, Lexi noticed how aspects of her Kenyon education naturally applied to teaching. “Kenyon taught me to be passionate and to show that you care about things, and that’s how change happens.” Besides her interviews and mock lessons, Lexi’s academic accomplishments, resume of experience working on campus, and dedication to Chamber Singers and Her Campus resulted in a job offer from TFA in October. “I was super happy, because I wanted to be part of an organization that actively combats the struggles of kids’ access to a quality and fair education,” Lexi says.
After graduating with an English major and music minor, Lexi became immersed in TFA’s training process. First, she worked with her assigned advisor to decide on teaching kindergarten in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “They figure out what you want from a city, culturally, geographically, financially, and educationally, based on TFA’s connections in the region,” Lexi says. Her training with TFA began with “induction,” a holistic, week-long introduction to the area. “In Tulsa, it’s an entire week of meeting people, traveling around the city, and learning about the challenges it faces.” After induction, training continued for Lexi and her cohort of TFA inductees as they first taught in underserved summer schools. This provided the opportunity to learn and practice both academic and pedagogical material. “You get some experience working with another teacher, experience in the classroom, and training in the afternoon, too,” says Lexi.
When Lexi began her first year as a kindergarten teacher, she found that using newly-learned classroom management skills was a challenge. “I come from a relatively privileged background, so I was unaware of a lot of the things that most of the kids in our country struggle with in terms of education. A lot of my students have already experienced trauma in their short lives… they have difficulty getting along with each other and controlling feelings, which isn’t something that I anticipated,” she says. Lexi also learned how important it is to understand the needs of not only her students, but of the community.“We traveled to different parts of the city to meet community leaders and learn what they hope for the education system.” As the year went on, Lexi experienced first-hand the community impact of an underfunded system. “350 teachers leave Oklahoma every month,” Lexi reports. “Oklahoma has the poorest education funding in the nation, so it’s tough… A lot of the cost falls on teachers. In a better-funded public school, the school would have provided things like classroom materials and field trip funds for the kids.”
Despite the challenges, it has been the students that have influenced Lexi the greatest. Over the course of her first year, she formed a strong bond with the kids in her class by learning alongside them. “I love all of my kids so much,” she says. “I try to teach them that there aren’t good people and bad people, but that people make good and bad choices. I’ve definitely messed up, but I know I’ve made an impact on the students, and I’ve learned so much.” Her passion for helping children learn and grow makes the dedication worthwhile. “Seeing the look on a student’s face when they can read a new word, or write a full sentence, or when they accomplish something new… that’s really, really, cool.” Currently, Lexi plans to continue her passion for helping children learn by earning a graduate degree.
“TFA doesn’t expect all of their teachers to stay in the classroom,” she says. “They want to create social leaders with the skills to make a difference in the world.” Teach for America looks for potential teachers who show mature communication skills, work well collaboratively, and, above all, have a desire to help others. Because TFA isn’t just for those who know they want to go into education, applicants come from diverse backgrounds but are united by their passion for service. Information about applying can be found on the program’s website.
For Kenyon students who would like to know more about the application process or the program itself, Anneke Mason in the CDO is available for appointments.
By Amelia Yeager ’20