In a recent bid to slash spending, Congress looks ready to nix seemingly dispensable programs like AmeriCorps. Under that larger umbrella, organizations like Teach For America are able to offer Corps members loan deferrals and loan forgiveness, making the opportunity to serve easier for recent college graduates. Without AmeriCorps funding, the extra financial burden on potential members will deter many from joining its programs. Although the President urges us to serve, the opportunity to do so will be undermined indefinitely.
I am Raul Mendoza, and I am a fourth grade math and computer science teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. I am serving the first of my two-year commitment with Teach for America. I've been teaching since July 2010 and can tell you that it is an indispensable public service for the communities we serve. We give confidence to youth who live in chronic poverty -- youth who, in many cases, have seen first-hand crime that tears apart their communities. We give students the motivation and stability to be in school and stay in school. We give these students a choice about what they want to do with their lives -- not what they have to do because of the lack of opportunity they face.
This past summer, I taught 5th grade students in Atlanta who failed both math and English on their last state-wide tests. Over the summer, our students scored an average of 25% better on their exit exams than they did on their entry exams. Those scholars built the foundations they needed to move on to the sixth grade. At my current assignment, a Teach For America teacher is running a program to train our eighth graders to apply to top high schools in New Orleans. I am heavily invested in this program. We've already had three students accepted into Benjamin Franklin High School -- the best in Louisiana and one of the top public high schools nationally. We will continue to prepare our students for success. This step in their development is where the game changes. Accessing high quality higher education helps America's next generation gain their confidence, knowledge, and the opportunities they need to succeed.
Only a few weeks ago in his State of the Union address, President Obama called forward the nation's young people to "make a difference in the life of a child" and become teachers. We are "nation builders," President Obama elaborated. Our aspiration is to develop a well-educated, engaged generation. To do that, we need to provide young people the opportunity to serve their communities. AmeriCorps makes that happen. Cutting an entire program just to pay lip service to budgetary restraint will severely undermine the foundation of civic engagement. Whether the choice is to join the Marine Corps or the AmeriCorps, the President and Congress must not deter America's youth from serving their country.
In the fifty years since John F. Kennedy's inaugural, it is hard to fathom that we have fallen from asking not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country to a Congress that actively seeks to limit our civic engagement.
Raul Mendoza is a fourth grade math and computer teacher working in New Orleans, Louisiana through the Teach For America program and was previously the Co-President of the Columbia University chapter of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. The views expressed are his own.