Small schools; big dreams

Published 2:56 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

JACKSON – They come from different areas of the country, but for the next two years at least, they’ll call this area home. Teach for America (TFA) is bringing several new teachers to Northampton County for the upcoming school year.

Takeem Ragland, who grew up in New Jersey, will be teaching 8th grade English at KIPP Gaston College Prep. He’ll also be an assistant coach for the school’s football team.

Ragland received his undergraduate degree in communications from Delaware State University and his masters degree from St. Joseph’s University. He lived for a while in Concord, NC and worked occasionally as a substitute teacher, which played a factor in his decision to join TFA.

“I really wanted to take this teaching thing to another level,” said Ragland. “I wanted to dive into teaching full-time.”

Katelyn Suchyta (right) will be one of three new Teach for America instructors at Conway Middle School beginning later this month. She is shown here receiving her assignment certificate from Kim Daughtry, representing Northampton County Public Schools. | Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

Ragland also explained that he believed in TFA’s mission to provide an excellent education to all students. He wanted to help make that a reality.

In July, Ragland participated in TFA’s summer residency program at Conway Middle School and said he had a “really great time” and “built nice relationships” with his students. He said he enjoyed learning their personalities as the students opened up day by day, and he said he wished the program had lasted longer.

“I’m really happy with my decision,” Ragland said on relocating to teach in the Eastern North Carolina region.

Djola McGowan will be teaching 7th and 8th grade science at Gaston Middle School. She’s originally from Jamaica, but grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. She earned her degree from Messiah College.

Before joining TFA, McGowan was a counselor at the Milton Hershey school for two years. She said she enjoyed helping students find their career paths, and that influenced her decision to become a TFA teacher.

“There’s so much to be offered in a smaller community,” McGowan said, about relocating to the area.

She’s also looking forward to the warmer weather compared to Pennsylvania’s colder winters.

McGowan participated in TFA’s summer residency program as well and said “the students were the best part,” adding that they asked a lot of awesome questions every day and were always full of energy.

While new teachers like Ragland and McGowan are thrilled about the upcoming school year, they’re not alone in looking towards the future. The Northampton County school system appreciates the partnership with TFA as well.

“Working with new TFA teachers is always exciting,” said Assistant Superintendent Douglas Miller. “They bring an energy to your school culture that youth and idealism fosters.”

Miller explained that Northampton County has had a long history with TFA, receiving some of the program’s very first teachers back in the 90’s.

“When TFA’s [teachers] partnered with existing teachers, some great things happened,” Miller said, citing the electric car project that was a staple of Northampton County High School for years as one example.

The electric car project was the result of a collaboration between a TFA teacher, Eric Ryan, and Miller’s father, Harold, who was an automotive teacher with the school. The story of their partnership was featured in a book called “Electric Dreams” by Caroline Kettlewell.

Miller went on to add that the summer residency program partnership, which began in 2016 to offer summer school for local students, was a success this year as well.

“TFA brings in teachers from around the nation to give their newest teachers the opportunity to co-teach alongside veteran teachers and learn more about the communities they will serve in,” he explained of the summer program.

The focus on being a leader and reaching out are important aspects of the Teach for America program overall.

When asked about the benefits of bringing in the new teachers every year, Miller said, “their energy and enthusiasm can be contagious and spreads to the community.”

The school district plans to keep working with TFA to continue the summer residency program as well as placing teachers in classrooms throughout Northampton County.

“We do try and recruit teachers who would be in the profession longer, but the truth is we have trouble finding enough teachers for our district,” Miller said, explaining why it’s important for the program to continue.

Miller said they are welcoming seven new TFA teachers who will be at their district schools this year. Central Elementary and Gaston Elementary will receive one new TFA teacher each, Curry Lovell and Mary Brodeur, respectively. Djola McGowan and Ryan Carroll will be teaching at Gaston Middle, while Conway Middle will receive three new teachers: Katelyn Suchyta, Jack Cox, and Daniela Jaramillo.

The Teach for America organization recruits young people with strong leadership skills to teach for a minimum of two years in low-income sites across the country with the goal of providing a more equitable education to all.