Only about one in every three teenagers in Baltimore graduates from high school, making graduation rates here among the lowest in the country, and according to Rachel Evans, the director for Recruitment of Teach for America (TFA) in Baltimore, this is the main issue that TFA tries to confront.
TFA is a non-profit organization that, according to teachforamerica.org, seeks to "eliminate educational inequity by engaging our nation's most promising future leaders in the effort." These leaders are recent college graduates who have commited to teaching in low-income communities across America for two years.
"We need talented leaders right now in the classrooms," Evans said.
A number of those talented leaders come from Hopkins. Since the Baltimore branch of TFA was established in 1991, 93 Hopkins graduates have taught in the city. Eighteen of these graduates are currently in the midst of their two-year commitment to the program.
Jason Farber, a graduate of the class of 2006, entered TFA immediately after finishing school. He cited the disparity between city and county success rates as one of the main reasons he chose to stay in Baltimore.
"There's a lot of work to be done here, but this is an exciting time to do it. Our goal is to try to close that achievement gap," Farber said, referring to the drastic difference between graduation rates in the city and the suburbs.
He also said that his knowledge of the city from his time at Hopkins led him to decide he wanted to stay in the area rather than attempt to establish roots in an unfamiliar city.
Like Farber, Yasmene Mumby is a Hopkins graduate. She graduated in December of 2007 and soon afterwards began her service in TFA. Currently she is teaching seventh grade social studies at a charter school in Park Heights called Kipp Ujima Village Academy. Since she is from Baltimore she said she was automatically invested in the welfare of the city.
"TFA has really given me the outlet to do what I want to in terms of giving back to the community," Mumby said.
She added that previous experience working with Baltimore youth also influenced her decision to join TFA.
"I worked in an after-school program for latino kids. I realized I could do more actually in the classroom," she said.
Both TFA workers acknowledged that they have many challenges in their work in Baltimore.
"We'll have our teachers paired with students in high school who have a first grade reading ability," said Evans. "It's a huge responsibility for 22 year-olds who have just graduated from college, almost like being made CEO of a failing company."
However, Mumby said that the gratification is worth the challenges.
"I wouldn't say there are any disadvantages to working for TFA, because you are working for the advantage of the city of Baltimore," Mumby said.
TFA has long-term hopes for both the school system and the teachers who contribute to it.
"We want leaders who will stay involved in education somehow and who will fight the legal battles that need to be fought," Evans said.
She described some of the career paths chosen by TFA alums upon completing their two-year commitments to the program. Law school is popular, as are various other graduate programs. Some volunteers also go directly into other jobs in education. For example, Farber is now working for a charter school in Baltimore.
Chad McCarthy, another TFA alum, is currently attending medical school at Hopkins. He began working with TFA shortly after graduating from the University of Maryland in 2005.
While he recognizes the many challenges facing TFA teachers in Baltimore, he also commented on some of the advantages of the city.
"Baltimore is a small city. The size makes it easy to build a community," McCarthy said.
He also described some of the ways in which his experience in TFA prepared him for the seemingly unrelated field of medicine.
"It made me capable of working long hours without fatiguing and conditioned me to always be pushing myself in terms of what I can do to make things better. Medical school in comparison has been relatively easy, actually," McCarthy said.
While this variety demonstrates that not all TFA teachers plan on pursuing careers in teaching, there are still definitely individuals who are committed to a future in education.
Mumby pointed out that the two-year period of teaching in TFA is a minimum requirement, and it is possible for teachers to extend their time with the program to continue teaching.
"I've become committed to the children," she said, adding that she would most likely be among the teachers who choose to continue working with TFA.