"Kids in urban and rural areas have every bit of the potential other kids do," said Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp to a half-full Salomon 101 auditorium last night.
The Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women presented Kopp with a Leadership for Change through Education Award at the event. Kopp accepted the award, saying her work showed that the current state of education is "a huge but solvable problem."
"We live in the United States of America," she said. This is a country that "aspires to give all of our kids equal chances." But in a nation where many classrooms lack qualified and dedicated teachers, not every child is given that opportunity, Kopp said.
Kopp added that many people believe there are students who have issues that cannot be solved by education — for example, assumptions that their parents do not care or they are not naturally intelligent.
But in her experience, Kopp has found that "when you give kids the chances they deserve, they excel."
The success of TFA has shown the inherent ability of every student, she said. Even in classrooms with low achievement rates, qualified and dedicated teachers can vastly improve the situation. For this reason, she said, TFA must "recruit as aggressively as we do on college campuses."
Fourteen percent of last year's senior class applied to the program as a result of TFA's heavy recruiting at Brown, according to Kopp. She also said she is hoping that Providence will be one of the next cities to start a TFA branch.
But Kopp recognizes that the program's key limitation is "the short-term aspect of what we do." The system needs to change so that students can be productive working with teachers who are "talented, but not superheroes," she said.
The other award recipient, Hillary Salmons, is the executive director of the Providence After School Alliance, which provides students with productive and educational afterschool activities.
Education "is our collective responsibility and should be our nation's priority," Salmons said.
She said her dream for Providence is to extend learning past the classroom. Students are currently "hitting the street at 2:30," she said. Salmons aims to provide activities so that students "will not be able to tell the difference between school and afterschool."
Kate Kolbert-Hyle '10, who attended the lecture, said Kopp "is very impressive and expresses her mission well. She doesn't hesitate to point out the broader problems."