Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Three graduating Swarthmore students have been placed in the Teach for America program this year: Ashanti Hubbs in the Mississippi Delta region, Micah Katz in the Rio Grande Valley region, and Joe Borkowski in South Dakota. Teach for America is a national organization intended to eradicate inequality in American education by training top recent college graduates and professionals to teach in low-income communities.
The selection process for Teach for America is competitive and accepted corps member endure a rigorous preparation process: each participant must fulfill thirty to thirty-five hours of pre-institute work before their programs begin, ideally through local school districts. This summer, Hubbs, Katz, and Borkowski, will be intensively preparing for their new positions. Teach for America teachers both fulfill roles as employees of their designated school district and members of AmeriCorps while working towards alternative certification in their respective states.
Borkowski discussed his placement in an interview with the Gazette. “I was extraordinarily pleased that they had gotten it right,” explains Borkowski, reflecting on how he had received a placement that strongly matched his interests in South Dakota and working with students with disabilities.
Borkowski’s interest in working in South Dakota comes from the opportunity to serve students from Native American reservations. During the application process he realized that “Native American students weren’t even represented in the statistics… This is the greatest opportunity to work with students that are not only in a community that needs teachers but a community that is mostly ignored by American politics.”
Borkowski is also passionate about working with students with special needs. In high school, he began working with autistic two and three year olds. While assisting as a teacher’s aid, he became aware of “how much of a difference even one more person in a classroom can make… It’s the amount of attention that really makes a huge difference. To reach out to at least one individual makes a difference,” he ssaid.
Though clearly enthused, Borkowski doesn’t hesitate to admit that it should be a challenging experience. “I’ve always been this East Coast city kid,” said Borkowski, who grew up outside of New York City. However, he feels well equipped for the challenge of learning about and embracing a new culture after his experiences studying abroad and at Swarthmore, “[encountering cultures] that’s one of those essential parts of the liberal arts experience.”
In the longer term, Borkowski stressed the Teach for America experience is meaningful differently to different participants such as “an adventure or a political statement,” he said. For Borkowski, however, “Teach for America is not just a two year program. I consider this a career choice.” Borkowski, who identifies himself as a “left-wing, politically-minded person,” has never felt so patriotic: “I’m doing this for myself third. I’m doing this for the students and really for my country,” he said.