Faris, Gail




Service-Learning; Meritocracy; Educational Inequity; Teach for America; Mississippi Delta; American Dream

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Self-Preparation: From New England to the Mississippi Delta

Emily Wojtusik

Faculty Sponsor: Gail Faris, Women’s Center

I have been accepted into the Teach for America (TFA) 2011 Corp, in the Mississippi Delta teaching elementary education. I was born and raised in Connecticut, and have attended the University of Rhode Island for the past 4 years. I have studied sociology with a concentration in criminology. This Senior Honors Project is both related to my areas of study and represents a slight departure that will prepare me for my teaching responsibilities in the Delta.

This project is a comprehensive study involving social and political action in the Delta from the past to the present. The four components are (1) investigation of regional history and statistics regarding jobs, education, housing, and healthcare, (2) interviews with a URI faculty member who is a Native Mississippian as well as those who have spent time teaching in Mississippi, (3) interviews with TFA alumni who have previously taught in the Delta region, and who currently remain active there, and (4) a reflection on how all of the information gathered has prepared me culturally, academically, and affectively to soon begin teaching in my own classroom in August.

By the time students from low-income communities reach eighth grade, they are on average 3 years behind their more affluent (and more often white) peers in math and reading. This gap widens to 4 years by grade twelve. One of the key ideas that TFA emphasizes as being at the heart of a new teacher’s experience is ‘building a strong knowledge base’. Before trying to develop this in children, I decided to build it in myself first. This project will show how the personal experiences of others can help me to create a foundation of knowledge before my transition to the Delta.

Additionally, TFA implies the importance of ‘working to effect significant gains with respect and humility’. Relying on my first hand encounters, I will be learning about the struggles, diversity, and other key issues in regard to poverty and educational inequity. As a result, I hope to be better equipped to examine my own background and biases, and to capitalize on how these will affect my teaching and my students’ learning.

College has been a building block in my life. The coursework I have experienced throughout my undergraduate career at URI has allowed me to develop empathy for the disenfranchised, and a maturing self-awareness. This combination led me to apply to TFA. In continuation, through TFA, I hope to be a catalyst in making a difference in children’s lives regarding how they value and pursue education. This project is the first step toward that goal.