2014-04-22

By Kara McFadden and Alexandria Thompson

This piece was written for The GW Hatchet and is reprinted here. Kara McFadden is a senior majoring in Economics and International Affairs at The George Washington University and an alumna of City Year, an AmeriCorps program. Alexandria Thompson is a junior majoring in Criminal Justice and is completing her second year with Jumpstart, another AmeriCorps program.

On Monday [April 21], 80 students and more than 15 local non-profits will gather in the Marvin Center to make a simple call to our campus community: You have the chance to make an impact.

The idea started simply enough. As students involved in Jumpstart, Teach For America, City Year and other advocacy organizations, the two of us spend a lot of time talking to our fellow students about our respective programs and the larger issues they address. As we do, we run into lots of overlap – not just in who we’re talking to but in our own personal stories. Kara, for example, works to get people to get involved with City Year– an organization that strives to end the dropout crisis by providing tutors and mentors to the students who are most at risk–and will join the 2014 Teach For America corps teaching Second Grade in New York this fall. Alex also devotes her time to education-focused organizations as a current Jumpstart Team Leader, member of Students For Education Reform (SFER), and Teach For America intern.

Through these experiences, we’ve both had the opportunity to know intimately the challenges that face our students and their communities.  Kara saw how the complex forces of poverty and racism that faced her students conspired to make their chances of graduating college a mere 8% (compared to 80% for students from high-income families).  On the other hand, Alex saw the importance of every dollar spent in early childhood education. And so we started doing our research to help comprehend these stark realities.  According to a recent study published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, “every $1 invested in early childhood education can save $7 in the long-term through reduced costs associated with remedial education, criminal justice, and welfare payments.” On a larger scale, a recent Columbia University study finds that every $1.00 dollar invested in national service brings a return of $3.95 in terms of higher earnings, increased economic activity, and other community-wide benefits. It is clear that investing in service today makes for a more resilient tomorrow.

And so, with all this overlap and new research, we’ve kept talking. As we have, we realized that in all our postering, emailing, coffee-grabbing, and so forth to encourage people to consider the programs we represent, what we care most about is not what path to service they choose, but the fact that they choose one at all. Before long, the idea for Monday’s event was born. We would put out a wide invitation and heard from tons of great local organizations. On Monday, we’ll bring them together and encourage students to explore each and every one until they find the exact match for their interests, abilities and passions.

So why serve? Over the years, recent college grads have demonstrated the tremendous impact that talented, committed young people can have on social injustice and educational inequity. Some, like Kara, do it through national service programs like City Year, AmeriCorps or Teach For America. Others choose to work for local non-profits or community action groups. Others opt to engage in parent advocacy, civil rights law or policy work. The details aside, we know these individuals have the potential to make a real difference — both in the individual lives of kids and families and in addressing the broader systemic inequalities that burden so many.

With so much at stake, we need more people to make this choice.We need people like Julia King ’08, who graduated from GW, joined TFA and was recently named DC Teacher of the Year. We need more people like Joel Uyenco ‘13, a previous Jumpstart Team Leader who is currently a Capital Teaching Resident through KIPP DC. We need more people to follow in the footsteps of people like Alice Murray, a current sophomore, who is a LIFT DC Community Advocate. These are just a few of the students and alum in our GW community who have decided to become the change-makers we need today.

This is a critical moment in the history of our nation and future of our district. And for the Class of ’14, with all possibilities ahead, one big opportunity presents itself – the chance to be part of a movement that will challenge and inspire, humble and uplift.  We’re ready for the challenge.

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