Teach For America’s 25th Year in Arizona

It all began with a good idea and a desire to reduce educational inequity.

In her senior thesis at Princeton University, Wendy Kopp laid out her plan to improve education in low-income neighborhoods by training and hiring exceptional people who shared her passion for education.

After graduating, Kopp founded Teach For America (TFA) in 1989 and never looked back. Today, there are 56,000 alumni in 53 regions who have impacted millions of students. This year marks TFA’s 25th year in Phoenix.

Arizona is one of the original states to host Teach For America and is home to 101 current corps members and over 800 alumni who have made an invaluable impact on our education system.


The goal of TFA is to minimize educational inequity so that every child will have an equal opportunity to learn, grow, influence, and lead. Today, only nine percent of kids raised in low-income communities will graduate from college by the time they are 25.

TFA has proven to be one of the nation’s greatest weapons to combat the educational achievement gap. TFA consistently ranks as one of the most effective teacher preparation programs in the country. On average, TFA corps members produce an additional 1.3 months of academic progress with students in pre-Kindergarten through second grade classrooms, as well as nearly three months additional academic progress in math in a given year.

TFA is also one of the largest providers of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers in the nation.

Corps members operate under the belief that “education is the most powerful tool for social change in society,” 2015 Phoenix corps member and Maryvale Prep Academy fifth grade teacher Samantha Sidoti said. “That means we have to make sure everyone has access to a quality education. It is paramount in moving towards a more just and equitable society.”


TFA members are required to teach for at least two years, and most alumni go on to careers focused on improving education.

Colin Seale, 2004 D.C. corps member and founder of ThinkLaw, a program to help students develop critical thinking skills by studying cases based on real life legal cases, attributes much of his company’s success to inspiration and aid from TFA.

“When you see education inequity, it’s hard to unsee it,” Seale said. “I wanted to make a better impact.”

In 2015, TFA put Seale in touch with its social innovation team, which helped him fine tune his idea with feedback from teachers. Three years later, his innovative teaching model is used in 14 different states and continues to expand.

When entering TFA, 20 percent of corps members are planning to pursue a career in education. Upon completion of TFA’s teaching requirement, 65 percent of alumni choose to continue to work in education and 84 percent work in positions that positively impact low-income communities. For TFA alumni, the commitment to minimize educational inequalities far exceeds TFA’s two-year teaching requirement.

TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard is one Phoenix alumni who has dedicated her life to achieving TFA’s mission.

Villanueva Beard started with TFA 18 years ago as a teacher in the Valley. Since then she has been an integral part of TFA’s expansion and success, working towards 4,000 new members by 2020. For her, the recipe to success is the unwavering dedication of TFA’s current members and alumni to set all children on the path to success.

“I’m just awe-inspired by the people I get to work with everyday who are deeply determined to create a different reality for children. I believe it is possible.”

In the last 25 years, thousands of teachers and alumni like Sidoti, Seale, and Villanueva Beard have changed the landscape of education in Arizona.

Megan Donahey

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