It all starts in the classroom. And, for nine members of the 2016 Teach For America corps, that classroom was at the College of Charleston.

With graduates from the Classes of ’16, ’13, ’11 and ’06 in the 2016 Teach For America corps, a record number of CofC alumni are making a difference in classrooms around the country through this nationwide Americorps-affiliated organization.

“As classroom leaders, your graduates are already making a profound and immediate impact in their students’ lives,” says Lauren Barber, manager of prospect communications for Teach For America (TFA), explaining that every year, TFA recruits, trains and supports recent college graduates and professionals with demonstrated leadership skills so that they can have a immediate positive impact on students in low-income urban and rural public schools. “CofC students are uniquely talented and committed to service. They demonstrate achievement, leadership, perseverance and a commitment to expanding opportunity for children in low-income communities.”

“Having professors model true compassion and understanding helped prepare me for the classroom,” says Audrey Sigmon ’16 (pictured above), who majored in special education with a focus on learning disabilities and emotional disturbance. “I learned that it is not weakness but a strength to love and invest in your students by the investment my CofC professors made in me.”

Katherine McCoy ’13, who majored in history and double-minored in Classics and historic preservation, agrees that the faculty at the College made her a better teacher: “My professors helped me connect history to today, allowing me to connect events that may have happened in my students’ pasts to their current lives,” says the seventh-grade special education teacher in Walterboro, S.C. “CofC being a liberal arts college taught me how to approach a subject from many different angles, which is very helpful with today’s learners.”

While New York early childhood education teacher Shannon Wischusen ’16 was double-majoring in sociology and Spanish at the College, she also had the opportunity to teach in multiple settings – something that inspired her to join TFA: “I joined Teach for America because of the education I received in systemic equity and the importance of educational equity in all communities, especially low-income areas.”

“My time studying political science at CofC inspired and prepared me to be a change-maker,” says Caroline Dennis Angell ’11, who joined TFA after working in the nonprofit sector and now teaches third grade in Denver, Colo. “I wanted to have a more direct impact and do more to create positive change.”

But that positive change isn’t just for the students these alumni are teaching.

Through their Teach For America experience, CofC graduates gain firsthand experience taking on the injustices low-income communities face and become lifelong leaders in the broader fight for equity and opportunity,” says Barber, adding that corps members also deepen their own understanding of what it takes to dramatically increase student achievement. 

“I have enjoyed seeing my students grasp new concepts and being that one person (sometimes the only person) who believes in them,” says McCoy, who earned a master’s in museum education. “I wanted to try to improve the U.S. education system through informal education. While working in museums, I realized I could make more improvements from inside schools.”

“I was looking for a support system that would push my social justice mindset in education,” says Sigmon, who now teaches third-grade special education in California. “The people I’ve been lucky enough to work with in TFA have given me the tools to navigate and grow as a first-year teacher and person, which is what I wanted when looking for my first teaching job.”

And, of course, that first job in front of the classroom is just the beginning.

“After their two years in our program,” says Barber, “CofC graduates can continue to make their impact in the classroom, while others will choose to move to other sectors to focus on dismantling inequities in policy, law, medicine, nonprofits, etc.”

Wherever the experience takes these nine alumni, one thing is for sure: It all started in the classroom.