CARBONDALE — Coleman Fitch wants to make a difference beginning Day One in his teaching career. Thanks to the Teach for America program, he will be doing just that after graduating from Southern Illinois University Carbondale this week.
Fitch, of West Frankfort, will receive his diploma in history with a minor in English/creative writing during Saturday’s 9 a.m. commencement. This fall, he’ll be teaching high school English, primarily to low-income, underserved students in St. Louis.
“I feel incredibly honored to be admitted to TFA,” Fitch said. “This program has an incredibly strong reputation for many different reasons, and to be able to contribute to its cause with some of the most promising change agents across the country is both a dream come true and a welcomed challenge.”
He’ll serve for two years in the metro area through the TFA program.
Fitch said he believes he’s prepared for the challenges ahead thanks to the education and experience he received at SIU. In addition to earning his academic credentials, complete with classroom teaching experience, he was chosen to participate in SIU’s Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps.
Each week since August, Fitch travelled to DeSoto Grade School to help students in grades K-5 who weren’t reading at the appropriate grade level. In conjunction with the district’s Reading Response to Intervention program, he focused mainly on helping the children with phonetics, comprehension and other literary elements, trying to help them catch up.
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“Seeing their growth and excitement as they entered the classroom has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Fitch, the son of Mark Fitch and Tonya Sasade, said.
AmeriCorps is one of the most important and invaluable programs in the country, Fitch believes, and he will happily tout the benefits to anyone who will listen.
Indeed, the AmeriCorps experience was a major impetus for Fitch to apply to TFA.
“I was interested in TFA because the work they do is, in my opinion, some of the most important and crucial work you can imagine: teaching students who primarily come from low-income backgrounds while attempting to break down the barriers that prevent them from obtaining educational equity,” Fitch said. “A sizeable portion of the students at DeSoto come from similar backgrounds, as did I, and this experience inspired me to take my work to the next level.”
Fitch said he has several goals as a teacher in St. Louis, and of course, providing the best education he possibly can to his students is the top priority. But, he wants to do more than that.
“One of my main goals is to provide a safe space for them, one in which they can really be listened to and valued for who they are as people and not seen for the neighborhood they come from or any other socioeconomic factor,” he said.
Typically, less than 15 percent of the applicants are chosen as TFA corps members.
“It’s exciting that Coleman has been selected to Teach for America. Graduates from across the country apply for this program and to get selected is quite an honor,” Mythili Rundblad, who as coordinator of the Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism supervised Fitch’s AmeriCorps experience.
”Given Coleman’s dedication to impacting the lives of youth, his leadership skills and his outstanding experience as a tutor and mentor in Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps, it is not surprising that he will be joining this program upon graduation. He will make a real difference for many school children,” Rundblad added.
Fitch and his new fellow selectees will receive several weeks of special training this summer from TFA before heading to their assignments. Studies indicate that while the TFA teachers are new to the teaching field, their student learning outcomes often surpass those taught by typical peers.