By Tianay Perrault
Born and raised on the East Side of Buffalo, I grew up in a single-parent home. My mother instilled the critical importance of education for my future and independence. With great sacrifice and the help of child-support payments, I attended private school most of my academic career. When my biological father refused to continue to pay for a private education, I had to find a public school in my neighborhood.
I tested for entrance into the top public high schools, but there was no space or I was refused admittance as a junior. East High was my zoned school, but not seeing it as an option, Mom fought to get me into Kensington High. To our surprise there were no Advanced Placement or honors courses. I was not allowed to bring home some textbooks or my assigned graphic calculator because teachers assumed students would not return them.
I graduated as valedictorian, but was not prepared to attend my college of choice, Rochester Institute of Technology. I secured extra tutoring and struggled to catch up. I felt unprepared, inadequate and embarrassed my freshman year. I knew that I did not want any other students of color to feel like I did starting my college journey.
After graduation, I felt unfulfilled in the corporate sector and heard about Teach For America’s alternative path to teacher licensing. With its focus on under-resourced schools, two years of classroom support and recruitment efforts seeking individuals who feel passionate about helping to close the educational opportunity gaps facing too many low-income kids of color, I joined.
Committing to teach for two years in Atlanta, I taught for seven. TFA provided a coach who guided me with teaching strategies and connected me to the Agnes Scott College credential program. With the support of TFA and other mentors, my first-graders not only developed a love of learning and commitment to their college paths, but scored 100 percent in reading and 92 percent in math and language on a state exam. My former students and parents still reach out to me. I feel proud and blessed to be part of their lives.
I am now an assistant principal in California and coach TFA teachers at my school. When I think about my hometown of Buffalo and how collaboration with TFA could build momentum behind ongoing efforts for educational equity, I’m beyond excited.
I’ve seen, first-hand, the benefits of a diverse faculty team that draws on the strengths, talents and backgrounds from traditionally and alternatively prepared teachers. Buffalo School Board members have the opportunity to add one more tool to the toolbox to help expand opportunities for kids in under-resourced schools. I urge them to vote yes.
Tianay Perrault is an assistant principal at Rocketship Discovery Prep in San Jose, Calif., and a 2004 Teach For America alumna.