Students can make a difference in the world

Diane Coffey

Currently in the United States, the zip code in which children are born determines the quality of education they will receive and as a result, the life opportunities that will be afforded to them. Today, educational disparities are greater in our country than they are in almost all other industrialized nations.

This is a country where nine-year-olds in urban and rural areas are already three grade levels behind nine-year-olds in wealthier suburbs, where less than half of high school students in urban areas will graduate and where those who do graduate often read below basic levels. In our country a child born in the Bronx or Compton is seven times less likely to graduate from college than a child born in Manhattan or Beverly Hills.

Education inequity plagues our country and many would argue that it is our nation’s greatest failure. This leads us to ask the question: “Why does a country with so many resources fail to address the existing disparities and in turn, improve the distressing fate of so many of our youth?” Closer examination of our country’s achievement gap reveals that this gap is not only determined by socioeconomic status, but also by skin color. Ninety-five percent of students at the lowest performing schools in our country are either black or Latino/Hispanic.

One of the University’s greatest traditions is instilling the notion of service into its students. Villanova graduates are charged with translating this lesson into reality. Several Villanova graduates have chosen to fulfill this mission by working to close the achievement gap. These graduates joined Teach For America and have worked relentlessly in classrooms across the nation to ensure that a student’s zip code will not be the sole determinant of a life’s trajectory.

For the past 15 years, Villanova alumni have been in classrooms as corps members of Teach For America and after their two-year commitment, have gone on to do amazing things in and outside the education field to manifest real change in our nation. Jill McLaughlin, class of ’97, served her third grade students in Los Angeles for two years before becoming an education policy advisor. Today, she works on behalf of all students to improve their educational opportunities.

Ellie Sutton, class of 2002, currently attends Yale Law school after working in her New Orleans classroom with 9th and 10th grade students, equipping them with the necessary skills for college.

McLaughlin and Sutton both found that Teach For America allowed them to make an immediate impact in the lives of their students. It also opened doors to graduate schools and job opportunities that might not have been available without this experience.

This year, Villanova seniors will have the opportunity to join the fight to end educational inequity, and many have already taken the first step. On Dec. 20, three Villanova seniors, including Kimberley Fernandes, learned of their acceptance into Teach For America.

“I decided to apply for Teach For America because the possibility of being able to make a difference in the classroom and for the public educational system as a whole was a very attractive opportunity,” Fernandes said. “I first became aware of educational inequity as a young private school student who realized that not everyone went to the ‘same kind of schools,’ and that some were better than others.”

Graduation is now only four months away. What are you planning on doing next with your life? We challenge you to find a way to serve your community, and not to ignore the inequities that too many of our nation’s children experience firsthand. Teach For America is one path that will allow you to do just this. Learn more at and attend an upcoming informational session and CNN documentary screening about the lives of four first-year Teach For America corps members. This event will be led by Nick Webber, class of 2005, a current Teach For America Philadelphia corps member, on Feb. 6, 6 p.m. in 1011 Bartley Hall.