Coming Home to Teach
In 2009, as a high school freshman, Brezana Cross met her new math teacher: Chris Matles. He was perhaps slightly out of place, as a New Yorker newly arrived in Mississippi.
But, Brezana says, her experience with Mr. Matles changed her life. “It allowed me to see the world from a different perspective,” she adds. Over the next three years, she had two more teachers who, like Mr. Matles, were corps members with Teach For America, who exposed her to new possibilities—including the option of applying to college.
“So as I matriculated to Spelman College in the fall of 2012, my purpose became more apparent. My dreams of becoming a doctor transferred to a social passion for education. I have known for a while that Teach for America was my purpose and that Yazoo City was the right place for me to serve at the right time. Throughout high school and college, I faced many hardships, but I knew that many of the children in my hometown looked up to me so I strive to serve as an example for my little future hometown heroes.”
Ms. Cross, as she’s known to her students, or Bre, as she’s known to her friends, is one of a large cohort new cohort of locals committing to teach in Mississippi. Nearly one in five of Teach For America-Mississippi’s new cohort in the 2016-2017 school year has long-term ties to the state. In fact, just across town at Shaqwana Woodard—who, like Cross, graduated from Yazoo City High School—is teaching at McCoy Elementary.
Andrea Johnson, a second-year Teach For America corps member who teaches alongside Ms. Cross at Webster Elementary this year, says having a local peer has already been immensely helpful. Ms. Cross, Johnson says, quickly became key liaison to connect with parents and community members.
Cross and Woodard lead alongside and together with a remarkable and passionate group of advocates, including our alumni, who are shaping the political, economic, and social future of the country. Research bears out the impact our alumni have as change agents beyond the corps. Researchers at Harvard Graduate School of Education found that more entrepreneurial education organizations are founded by Teach For America alumni than any other organization. Currently, nearly 200 alumni live and work in Mississippi, and in a new partnership with Delta State University, we are launching a local cohort of entrepreneurial leaders. Learn more about their work here.