We know first-hand how dedicated and talented Teach for America alumni are - we have two of them working with us right now. I've asked one of them, Katy Byrd, to share her thoughts on TFA's return.
My Teach for America Experience
Kathryn Byrd, United Way for Southeastern Michigan Campaign Associate
Growing up, I always loved school. I was blessed to go to a great school and have great teachers that helped to open my mind and put me on a path toward success. In college I began to really realize how lucky I was and how many students across the country did not receive that same quality education that I did.
The desire to provide a quality education for all children led me to join Teach for America and to step into my 10th grade English classroom as a brand new teacher. I was excited to meet my students and to begin the work of closing the achievement gap for them. I was fired up and prepared to make sure that my students would succeed. My two years in the classroom were filled with struggles and mistakes but also with successes and joy. Even through the most difficult times I never lost sight of what I was working for and that drive and passion allowed me to be successful despite the obstacles. The students that I taught in my second year are about to graduate and I am so proud to be a part of their journey and success. Iím still in touch with many of them and am so excited when I hear about their college plans and future dreams.
I am proud of the academic success that I had with my students. In my first year 62% of them passed the state writing test compared to the school average of 48% the year before. In my second year over 80% passed which was equal to the top schools in the area. While I am very proud of my studentsí academic gains, I am even prouder of the impact I had on their lives. At the end of each semester I asked my students to complete a survey about my class. To this day, I am still moved by what my students wrote. Brittany, a student in my honors class during my second year, when asked the most important thing she learned in my class responded: ďI learned that you must think beyond your means. The sky is the limit and you must always strive not just to pass but to do the best you can.Ē
These students have an impact on my life. I think about them everyday in my work at United Way. Iím glad to be part of an organization that sees how important education is and that is working to make sure kids are starting kindergarten ready to learn and are graduating high school with the tools necessary to be successful in life.
I am overjoyed that Teach for America is coming back to Detroit. I am so excited for the next bunch of corps members to experience how great Detroit is and to begin the work of ensuring that all of their students are receiving an excellent education. I want Detroit to be a leader in education reform and I think bringing Teach for America as a partner is a step in the right direction. The reality is that only 3% of Detroitís 4th graders are meeting national math standards. Something isnít working for our children and we should be opening our arms to partners who want to help solve this problem, especially when they are having a positive impact in other cities with similar problems. I am excited to welcome the incoming corps members and to work with them to make sure that every child in our region is obtaining and excellent education and that Detroit is a leader in education.
They say that "charity begins at home," but in one family's case, charity began with their home. The family choose to sell their luxury home, downgrade to a home half the size, and give the profits to charity.
What could you give up half of to benefit the greater good?
Check out the story, along with commentary from United Way Worldwide CEO, Brian Gallagher, here: Selling your home for charity.
That's how my interview with Mike Tenbusch began.
He had ten minutes between back-to-back meetings, a lunch to finish, more than his fair share of emails and phone calls to return and thousands of kids to graduate from high school. The only time he could squeeze in for an interview with me was while walking between meetings. And it was when Mike began to answer my first question that he stopped, mid-sentence, asked me to walk faster, and then promptly picked up where he left off.
Mike is clearly a man with no time to waste.
Mike is United Way for Southeastern Michigan's Vice President of Education, working to ensure that kids enter school ready and that they stay in school. He'll be the first to tell you that everything he does, he does with the mind-set of serving the kids first. It's up to you to decide if he's talking about the thousands of metro Detroit school-aged children that aren't getting the education he knows they deserve, or if he's talking about his three kids at home – the kids that he makes a point to eat dinner with and read to every night (along with his "lovely" wife), no matter how busy he is.
And, just in case I haven't made it clear, Mike is very busy. Always has been...
Mike grew up in Detroit in a family of educators. In fact, between Mike, his grandfather, his father and his mother, the Tenbusch family has over 100 years of educator experience.
Between kindergarten and his senior in college, three people on Mike's block had been killed. This is the part where I say, "It's not a story unlike many you hear in Detroit every day..." But the story is different because Mike didn't just move on and move up. He decided to spend a lifetime making sure that the things he loved about his neighborhood and his neighbors would prevail. And he didn't waste any time starting.
After college, Mike went on to law school and, by the time he was 27, had started his own nonprofit - Think Detroit, an organization to build character in Detroit children through sports and leadership development. A few years later he joined the Detroit School Board and found the conditions that children were forced to try and learn in were downright deplorable. But he knew they didn't have to be and joined University Preparatory High School in Detroit as the COO because, he knew, they were doing it "right."
As the COO, Mike was the person responsible for turning parents away when there was no room left at University Prep. But turning away parents that had no other options didn't sit well with Mike. He eventually left University Prep, convinced that he could, and he would, create those other options. That is the desire, and the drive, that led Mike to United Way.
I remember when Mike first joined this organization, and gave his first presentation to our staff about the new programming he was instituting to curb the drop-out rate in metro Detroit. It wasn't just his enthusiasm that made his speech so memorable, it was the fact that he was the first person that ever truly helped me understand that the need to build public will was a key component to getting anything done.
What Mike was proposing was different and, honestly, exciting. He wasn't proposing that we put some band-aids on a big problem or that we simply throw some money at an issue for the sake of "doing something." What Mike was talking about that day was using the power of the United Way movement to create a holistic approach - research, advocacy, monetary resources, relationships, system design - to get at the root causes of the problem.
Now, I'll take no exception with those of you out there reading and thinking to yourselves, "Duh. You can't change anything in community unless the community wants it to change (i.e., there is public will behind it)." It seems so simple, and so smart, to me now too. But I'll be the first to admit that it's an all-too-often forgotten piece of the puzzle.
Mike was the first person that empowered me to feel that we truly had the power to move the needle forward on such a big issue.
As for Mike, he clearly never had a doubt.
You can read more about Mike's work to turnaround local schools at www.UnitedWaySEM.org/venturefund, or view the media below to hear it from the man, himself.
OneD.org | What the United Way is Doing [video]
Mike Tenbusch, Vice President for Educational Preparedness at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, talks about how the United Way is working to improve graduation rates in metro Detroit – and how others can make a difference.
NPR.org | Nontraditional Teachers May Be In Mich.'s Future [podcast and story]
Michael Tenbusch, a former teacher who works for the United Way, says that when it comes to teachers, there should be a bigger pool of talent to draw on.
Food's a big deal in metro Detroit - a BIG deal. In fact, 1 in 5 children live in a household where it is not known where they will find their next meal. And the situation is only going to get worse as our economy continues to tumble in metro Detroit.
In the coming months you'll hear a lot more from United Way about this issue and what it is we can all do to make sure that everyone has enough to eat.
Mike Schmitt is doing something about the food problem in metro Detroit. Mike leads Elevate Ministries, a group that brings together different churches and organizations to help college students and young adults make a difference in their church and community. Click here to read about Mike and Elevate's work through Mike's own words.
Since I'll be the one taking you on this digital meet 'n' greet tour of United Way, maybe I should tell you a little about me first. My name is Ursula Adams and I'm the United Way for Southeastern Michigan webmaster. You can call me the Digital Diva.
On a personal note, I'm a 30-something, Gen X'er, wife, daughter, step-mom, homebody, computer geek, closet goddess, and wanna-be rock star (I can't sing to save my life, I just want the fancy clothes). My husband, Bryan, is a laid-off steel worker. My step-daughter is a student in one of our Turnaround schools. The work of United Way affects me very personally. I need this region to grow and prosper, I need our schools to graduate strong, prepared students, because my family'slivelihood depends on it every bit as much as yours does.
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In my role as webmaster at United Way, I review every piece of electronic communication that comes to us via the website. If you fill out one of our contact forms, or make a donation, or comment on a blog post, or sign up for a newsletter or send a letter to your Senator using our online tools, I see it.
I monitor all the conversations that are taking place on the web about our organization as well. If there's a blog post, or comment on a news story, or a Tweet about United Way, chances are, I see that too.
It's one of my favorite, and least favorite, parts of my job.
It's my favorite because, admittedly, I'm nosey. I just like knowing what's going on. But, more than that, I love connecting with those that care enough about the work this organization and its volunteers are doing to drop us an email or make a donation or write about their experience with us online. I believe in the good work of United Way and I like to meet like-minded folks.
But then there are the naysayers and they make this part of my job so very unpleasant.
How do you LIVE UNITED? Grab the closest camera and make a short video explaining how you’re working to improve the education, income and health of people right where you live. Submit your video to the LIVE UNITED Story Search and you could be featured in United Way’s national ad campaign in 2010.
- Record your story in no more than 2 minutes of video.
- Upload the video between now and September 30.
- Get your friends to vote for your story.
Don’t know how to make a video? It’s easier than you think! You can use a camcorder, a cell phone, a digital camera, a computer or anything else that records video. Stories will be judged on substance, not production quality, so don’t sweat the details.
Today the Detroit ASBers spent the afternoon touring metro Detroit with stops in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
I love taking out-of-towners on a tour of metro Detroit (the city proper, in particular). You can physically see their perceptions change as you wind through places like The Heidelberg Project, Indian Village and Fox Town. There's a lot to love about Detroit that you just don't know about until you get here and experience it first-hand.
There's also a lot of work to be done and needs to be met. We toured those places as well today.
So, now that our ASBers know metro Detroit, know us here at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and know each other, tomorrow it's time to get down to business. Teams will be leaving campus at 8 a.m. to begin building wheel chair ramps, assembling a computer lab, mentoring children and rebuilding spaces for a women's shelter. That's when the real "fun" begins.
Day 2 of ASB and all are participants are safely ensconced in Detroit. The day was filled with many trips to and from campus and Detroit Metro Airport, meeting all our team members, and a kick off dinner that featured a 75-person Cupid Shuffle.
Why the Cupid Shuffle? You'll have to join us at Campus Martius on Friday, March 6th at 12:30 p.m. to find out...
Hope to see you there.
Day one of Alternative Spring Break Detroit 2009 is officially one for the record books now. Well, day one - pre-day one, that is. Participants start arriving tomorrow - today was a day for Team Leader training and set up. ASB hasn't really "officially" started, but everything that it is and everything that it represents, to me, is well under way.As I drove home tonight, forcing myself to leave after having spent 14 hours on the project site, I pondered how I was going to convey in this blog tonight what this experience really means to me. Why ASB is so important. This is what came to me...
It's easy in a job like mine - or anyone's, I guess - to get mired down in the day-to-day details and forget to look at the big picture. Deadlines and everyday tasks too often take over and I can forget, at times, why it is I choose to work at United Way - at a nonprofit - at an organization solely dedicated to improving community.
Spending a week with these young ASB volunteers, so dedicated to the servant-leader mentality that they have given up their Spring Break to spend a week volunteering in metro Detroit, I'm reminded of why I have chosen this path. Their optimism is contagious - it reminds me of the young, idealistic person I once was and it fills me with a renewed hope and sense of purpose.
I am so thankful for ASB and for what it does - not only for my community, but for me. I am thankful for the reminder. I am thankful for the renewal. I am thankful for the memories it creates that fuel me through the rest of the year.
So, whether you lend a hand and work with us, make a donation to United Way to support our work, or just follow us all week long through the blogs on this site - my hope is that you choose, however you can, to be part of the ASB experience this week too.
It's going to be a great week.
On the 2009 King Day of Service, and throughout the week of January 17th – 23rd, over 800 volunteers took part in volunteer-related service activities.
Volunteer time translated into community impact dollars = $62, 432 (as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Students from 5 regional colleges and universities participated. These schools include U of M-Dearborn, Lawrence Tech, Henry Ford Community College, Madonna University, Lawrence Tech and Oakland Community College.
24 community agencies opened up their doors to volunteers on this national day of service.
4 new partners this year: Chrysler LLC, Panera Bread, and City Year Detroit.