By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The personal rewards of working with America’s youth in the public education system are bountiful and something Teach For America recruits have known since its inception. Now, the highly competitive program is pushing an initiative to increase the number of military veterans in this battle to fight education inequality.
Sidney Ellington, a former Norman resident and University of Oklahoma graduate, leads Teach For America’s national veterans recruitment initiative “You Served For America, Now Teach For America.”
The initiative’s goal is to increase the number of military veterans and their spouses involved in Teach For America to upwards of 800 by 2016. Ellington said currently there are about 250 military veterans in the program.
To accomplish this goal, Ellington said TFA would continue to increase its visibility on college campuses like OU and connect with veterans, so that they know what an asset they could be for Teach For America.
“We’ve found that military veterans are very effective teachers. Their skills translate to the classroom such as leadership, diversity and teamwork. We see these as strengths and their involvement in a classroom can change the life trajectory of these kids,” he said.
After earning his PhD at OU, in 2010 Ellington joined TFA as a corps member, volunteering for special education in TFA’s highest-need region, New Orleans. Ellington went on to teach in an alternative high school setting where all students were over-age and at least two years behind academically, departing as Dean of Students.
“It was a life-changing experience, dealing with very intense issues on a daily basis,” Ellington said.
Ellington’s vision for “You Served For America, Now Teach For America,” includes strengthening TFA’s national and regional-level recruitment, building strong connections across veteran corps members and alumni, and increasing our allied collaboration to present teaching as a continued form of service and employment to veterans and military spouses.
Although working for Teach For America may be a challenge, Ellington said it is one veterans will succeed at.
“Veterans have already met similar challenges in the military,” he said. “And those in the military have a sense of service. They join the military to serve and with Teach For America, they can continue to do that.
“One of the biggest problems in America is education inequality. Pulling a student back from the brink of dropping out and watching them graduate is very very personally satisfying.”
On active duty from 1985 through 2005, Ellington deployed throughout the Western Pacific and Middle East in roles ranging from SEAL Team Platoon Commander to Commanding Officer-Naval Operations Support Center. Upon retirement he earned his PhD in public policy, concentrating in military counterinsurgency, from OU, where he remained for four additional years teaching political science courses.
After joining TFA and working in New Orleans, Ellington transitioned to work for the Louisiana Recovery School District, where through his work as program manager for their Truancy Improvement Initiative he helped imagine and execute the Youth Opportunity Center of New Orleans, which will open its doors this August.
Teach For America was founded by Wendy Kopp, who recently spoke at OU’s May commencement, on the concept of the Peace Corps. Since its beginning, Teach For America’s nearly 38,000 participants have reached more than 3 million children nationwide during their two-year teaching commitments in the nation’s highest need urban and rural schools.
For more information about Teach For America, visit teachforamerica.org.
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