Teach for America Teacher Hopes to Bring Improvements to Athens Schools

Kaitlyn Moran

Article: Morgan Ackley, Teach For America

            “Knowing is not enough; we must apply,” says Morgan Ackley, a future teacher for Teach for America. “Willing is not enough; we must do.” Ackley believes this quote is representative of her mission as she moves forward in achieving her goals.

            One of Ackleys’ goals is improving low-income area schools; most specifically in Athens, Ga. Ackley is passionate about teaching and making a difference in young students’ life therefore she volunteered at Athens-Clarke County schools when she moved to Athens.  She saw problems that needed change and an opportunity to help. That opportunity became possible when Ackley was accepted into the Teach for America program. Ackley is confident Teach for America will provide her with knowledge and experience to return to Athens and fix the problems she recognized years earlier.

Ackley is a senior psychology major at UGA from Atlanta, Ga. Teach for America accepted Ackley into their program in November. She leads various projects and organizations in Athens.  

Ackley is the executive director of the Manna Project International, she was a Dawg Camp counselor for two years and she is a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, where she headed numerous philanthropic causes. She works as a research assistant in a psychology lab at the university.

Ackley knew a teaching career was in her future but it was not until volunteering in Athens did she realize she wanted to teach in low-income areas of the country. “Education is so fundamentally important to every person. I had amazing teachers growing up who challenged me and taught me things I will carry with me for the rest of my life, now it is my turn to be that person for others,” said Ackley.

            Teach for America was an obvious choice for Ackley because, “it arms teachers with the first-hand knowledge of what’s possible in the country’s public schools despite the challenges of poverty. Our alumni become committed advocates for students,” said Kaitlin Gastrock, a Teach for America representative.  “We have a number of staff members who support our alumni as they explore career opportunities in education and develop their leadership skills to advocate for educational excellence.”

Ackley was flooded with phone calls, e-mails and letters from Teach for America alumni, government officials and others from all over the country when she was accepted into the program. “That was when I realized the gravity of what I was getting myself into. At the same time I knew Teach for America was the organization I needed in order to come back to Athens and help,” said Ackley.

            Teach for America recruits a diverse group of leaders with records of achievement who work to expand educational opportunity, starting by teaching for two years in a low-income community. Beyond their two-year commitment, alumni continue to work for educational equity and excellence form all sectors. Nearly two-thirds of Tech for America alumni continue to work full-time in education including 550 school leaders and five superintendents of traditional public schools districts. Six are founders of public charter school networks and over 40 are running non-network charter schools. Another 51 Teach For America alumni serve as elected officials and dozens have founded or lead social innovation ventures.

Teach for America attracts applicants who are talented, committed and represented by a diverse set of background and experiences. In 2010, 46, 366 candidates applied and 5, 872 were admitted into the program, making the acceptance rate around 12%. The admitted applicants graduated from more than 460 colleges and universities with average GPA’s of 3.6 or higher. Specifically, Teach for America searches for applicants with strong leadership potential and other strengths demonstrated by the most successful teachers in their program.

            Ackley recognized Teach for America’s success rate throughout the country and was hopeful they could provide her with the tools to change existing problems in Athens she saw over a four years period. Ackley saw a need for a change in the educational structure of Athens’ schools, throughout her experiences volunteering.

            Erin Michael, a teacher in Athens-Clarke County, agrees with Ackley from her experience teaching and also working with Ackley at schools in Athens. “Like most teachers in Athens, I too am here because I want to help improve the level of education children in Athens receive and deserve,” said Michael. “Morgan is knowledgeable and passionate about improving schools in Athens. She has an eye for identifying problems and solutions on a grand scale by focusing on overall structure within the school system and specific programs to benefit children who need extra help.”    

Ackley identified various changes she hopes to implement through her experiences. Among those are structural changes regarding flow of information between teachers, parents and school boards and personalized programs directed towards identifying and helping children who are struggling in the classroom and at home. “The educational gap can start before children even reach Kindergarten,” said Ackley. “This can happen if we don’t recognize when children are falling behind and need help but don’t ask for it.”

            Teach for America provides intensive training, support and career development that help leaders increase their impact and deepen their understanding of what it takes to close the achievement gap. Ackley saw similarities between Athens and Memphis after she visited the school she will be teaching at for the next two years. Both school systems are victim of an unorganized structure that she saw in Athens-Clarke County school systems, said Ackley. “I don’t think I could have been assigned to a better city in order to return to Athens and change inefficiencies,” said Ackley.

“Every school system is different but the schools Teach for America works with provide each teacher with a tremendous amount of insight into problems schools all over the country face and how they have attempted to solve them,” said Katie Dix, a Teach for America teacher. “The ability to observe schools outside of where your familiarity lies is important in determining the necessary places within each system that need improvement and the most effective way to do so.”

Athens has the highest poverty rate of any county of its size in the United States, said Ackley; there is a need for Teach for America in Athens. “Drawing from my experiences, with the university here we have tons of people and student organizations going into schools and donating their time but Athens still needs more. 

Ackley anticipates that successful programs will hit every needy area of the country one day, “but for now,” Ackley says, “My hopes are high for Athens.”






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