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A growing number of students are heading back to the classroom after graduation — not to graduate school, but to elementary, middle and high schools all across the country.

Teach for America was the third largest employer for last year’s graduating class, with 43 Penn graduates joining the teacher corps nationwide.

According to director of Career Services Patricia Rose, the number of students who join TFA has been increasing each year, setting a record high last year.

Kelly Cleary, senior associate director of Career Services, attributed the continual rise in TFA applicants to the weakened job market — forcing students to “widen their nets” — and to the growth of TFA itself.

Furthermore, the fact that it is a set, two-year program is appealing to students, Rose said.

Still, more than 60 percent of TFA alumni remain involved in education beyond the two-year period. Those who do not, however, give back to urban education issues, Rose said.

“The whole idea is that these people are so inspired by their time that whether they go to med school or law school, they’ll by fighting other aspects of the same problem,” said College senior Stephanie Lerner, who will join TFA’s teacher corps in Atlanta this summer.

Current corps member and 2010 College graduate Melinda Stoker hopes to remain involved in education after her term with TFA is over, though not necessarily in the classroom.

“Now that I’ve been in a classroom, I find that a lot of the problems with these schools are the school administration,” Stoker said.

“If we’re actually going to close the achievement gap, we need to approach it from all angles,” she said, referring to the discrepancy in academic performance between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Stoker teaches seventh and eighth graders at an alternative school in New Orleans designed for students who have been expelled from other schools.

Though it is a challenging environment, Stoker has found it rewarding to watch her students make progress and begin to grasp concepts.

For Lina McAfee, a former TFA corps member and TFA’s recruitment coordinator at Penn, one of the most meaningful parts of the program is seeing “how solvable the problems are,” she said.

“I really do believe there’s been awareness building on campus,” she said. “More corps members means more people who are able to talk about their experience and get more students invested in this mission.”

Penn’s connection to TFA does not end with its undergraduates. For six years now, the Graduate School of Education has partnered with TFA to create an executive-style masters program for members of the Philadelphia teacher corps.

While most teaching programs are completed before teachers enter the classroom, GSE Vice Dean Douglas Lynch said one of the benefits of this program is that students are simultaneously working and taking classes that support their work.

“We talk about being an urban education school,” said Lynch, who founded the program when he arrived at Penn, “but normally if you were doing your masters at Penn, you weren’t likely to go teach at an inner-city school. Now we’re the number one provider of teachers to Philadelphia public schools.”

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