Years ago, I worked for St. Louis Public Schools, at a time when the school district was undergoing rapid and massive organizational change. Declining student enrollment over decades, coupled with all of the other problems of an urban school district, had forced drastic action. An outside management firm was brought in to run the district; schools were closed; numerous contracts were outsourced; staff was significantly reduced. The actions were painful and controversial.
Despite the problems and controversy, the district has some important bright spots.
Two elementary schools had, years before, restructured themselves, taken different approaches to education and proved that low-income students could flourish in school.
The gifted school program had a high school and feeder schools that were at the top of the best in Missouri and the nation at large.
The district had teachers who managed to do some wonderful things in spite of adverse school conditions. I still remember a music teacher who created a first-rate student chorus among young students at an elementary school that had a 90 percent annual turnover rate in the student body. The school was in a high-crime area, with iron bars on the first-floor and second-floor windows, yet you sat in this teacher’s classroom and magic happened.
And then there was Teach for America.
The young people who were the corps for Teach for America had graduated from some of the best universities in the country, and were giving two years of their lives to teach children who were generally in adverse circumstances. They were teaching; children were learning. Their passion and commitment was inspiring. They taught everything from English and history to science and technology.
Today, Teach for America continues this important work.
Earlier this week, Monsanto Fund announced a $1 million donation to Teach for America in St. Louis, focused on expanding educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The donation will allow Teach for America to recruit more teachers with this kind of background and give them the support and resources they need to teach.
Looking at educational needs across the United States, this Monsanto donation is a small effort.
But it is still important. Children will have the opportunity to learn and benefit, and perhaps become scientists, engineers and mathematicians themselves.