Camelot, Teach For America Partnership Paying Dividends in Chicago
Two teachers who joined Camelot’s Excel Academy in Chicago fresh out of college as part of the Teach For America (TFA) corps are celebrating their fifth year at the school, underscoring a relationship that is helping second-chance students succeed and graduate.
Alley Murphy has risen from her teaching role to become academic coordinator for the school, and Andrew Hong teaches English at the Roseland campus. Both arrived in September 2012, Murphy from Indiana University Bloomington and Hong from the University of Maryland College Park. Since then, they have also earned their Master’s degrees while working at Excel Academy, an alternative high school that serves Chicago Public Schools students who have fallen years behind in their studies.
Murphy, who at 21 was the same age as some of her students when she first arrived, has matured into a dedicated, professional educator.
“Teach For America gave me the opportunity to teach. Camelot gave me the chance to meet the group of students that I love,” she says. “To see all of the kids who you’ve put your heart and soul into become strong, productive members of society and contribute something to themselves and others, it makes you want to stay with it.”
Hong echoes Murphy’s sentiments, and he sees teaching as his calling. The spiritually driven Korean-American
says he didn’t experience a diversity of cultures in his Baltimore neighborhood growing up. Now, as an advocate for social justice, he feels he could not teach in a more appropriate setting than the South Side of Chicago.
“While the severity of issues in Chicago, like gang violence, is prominent, there is an equally strong wave of positive efforts trying to bring about change. That’s a cool thing to be a part of,” he says.
Hong, who implemented a restorative justice program within the campus, says he stayed at Camelot after his TFA commitment for two main reasons– the culture of the staff and this particular student population.
“People here invested in me. They made me feel valued and like my talents were making a difference,” Hong says. “But even more importantly, interacting with these kids daily is such a blessing. I think people underestimate the impact they can make on students’ lives in this setting. I also learn so much from my kids in turn.”
The beauty of the Excel program is that its impact extends beyond the time the students graduate.
“Everything we do is purposeful, with the overall goal to support our students,” Murphy says. “Just the fact we have different opportunities to empower our students, such as earning a role in student government, can be so powerful. Giving them that sense of self-empowerment is something that stays with them.”
Excel Academy executive director Tyree Booker says it’s evident by the fact that Murphy and Hong chose to stay with Camelot that they believe in the school’s mission.
“TFA and Camelot share a common goal– we are both committed to overcoming the injustice of unequal education for low-income students, especially minority students, in this country,” Booker said. “We have found the TFA members to be mission driven to help our students grow and become better citizens.”