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Lessons Learned in the Fight for Educational Equity

On Friday, June 2nd, we went to the City Club to attend a program entitled "Lessons Learned in the Fight for Educational Equity"" featuring Ms. Elisa Villanueva Beard who, since 2015, has been the sole CEO for "Teach for America" which she has been involved with in various capacities since 1998.

"Teach for America" or TFA was founded in 1989 and has worked in Cleveland since 2012. As "Wikipedia" states, it is "a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to 'enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation's most promising future leaders to grown and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.' The organization aims to accomplish this by recruiting and selecting college graduates from top universities around the United States to serve as teachers. The selected members, known as "corps members,' commit to teaching for at least two years in a public or private charter K-12 school in one of the 52 low-income communities that the organization serves."

During her presentation, Ms. Villanueva Beard contended that a major problem in these modern times is that our public education system was developed a hundred years ago and is ill-equipped to deal with the challenges faced by special needs/at-risk children. Going a step further, sheemphasized the fact that a child's early surrounding are a key element in his educational development. She talked about the particular disadvantages that especially apply to low-income children and why expectations are so low for them. An example that she gave was one that she encountered when she was part of the TFA corps that concerned children suffering from headaches because they didn't have access to proper dental care so she put her leadership skills to good use and was ultimately able to obtain a grant to remedy this particular situation.

Ms. Villanueva Beard very strongly believed that if all facets of a community (parents, students, teachers, administrators, local businesses, and educational resoures) combined their talents and the right kind of leadership was exercised than the educational equity complication could be effectively addressed. She compared the situation to how the United States via collective action was finally able to send astronauts to the moon which was a feat previously thought to be impossible. She pointed to such places as New Orleans and Washington, D.C. as examples as to where the equity matter is being progressively dealt with.

Prior to the start of the program, we got to converse with Ms. Villanueva Beard about the service of the TFA corps to foreign-born students in need of ESL instruction and this was not taking place so much in Cleveland as it was in places like Texas where she grew up. We learned that her mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was only seventeen and that her father was first generation American. What's more, in her household as she was growing up education was a top priority.

Other members of the local TFA family who were pleased to dialogue with us were Ms. Katie Kohn, Managing Director of Teacher Leadership Development; Ms. Jennifer Howard, Managing Director of Development and Partnerships; and Ms. Olivia Sonnefeld and Ms. Stephanie Toman who were staffing the TFA table in the City Club lobby.

During lunch we shared a table and chatted with Mr. Ken Surratt, Deputy Director of Housing for Cuyahoga County's Dept. of Development and his wife, Ms. Jackie Surratt who is a Consultant for schools throughout Cleveland.

As far as international students, we met Ms. Virginia Runner, School Operations Manager with "Stepstone Academy" who worked with a two young students who immigrated to the U.S./Cleveland from the Philippines and found it to be a most rewarding experience.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC