By Peter Langer
As the Buffalo School District works to strengthen its systems to ensure that all students get the education that they deserve, Teach For America, a program that trains and recruits successful individuals to become strong teachers in high-poverty schools, can be part of the solution. I’m thrilled that the School Board recently voted to bring TFA to Buffalo.
Growing up in Buffalo, about two blocks from Bennett High, I spent summers playing baseball at Shoshone Park. As we entered high school, we all took different paths: Bennett, City Honors, St. Joe’s, Nichols, McKinley and Canisius. Over the years we stayed in touch; some of us graduated from college and started careers, but others were not so lucky. A few friends dropped out, others were incarcerated.
These stories always affected me. I was fortunate to have a strong support system and I also attended a high school that prepared me to attend the college of my choice, something too many of our children don’t have access to. I was set on law school at Notre Dame, but when I heard about TFA, I knew I had to be a part of the work to close the educational opportunity gap that had directly impacted so many of my peers.
I taught middle school math and science in North Philadelphia. My classroom experience was demanding and rewarding. I was amazed by the grit, resolve and success my students displayed daily growing up in one of the poorest and most violent ZIP codes in America. My students proved to me that any student, regardless of the ZIP code in which he or she was born, could succeed at the highest levels.
My students, the relationships we built, the successes we had at school and the love of learning that would carry my students through college persuaded me to dedicate myself to educational equity. It is critical for our country and the two cities that I call home.
Today, I am the principal of Simon Gratz Mastery Charter High, a neighborhood turnaround school in North Philadelphia. In the last two years, we were removed from the state’s persistently dangerous school list, doubled test scores, maintained an open enrollment for neighborhood students and increased our student body by 300. We achieved these results through the dedication of veteran teachers, students, parents and community members, and our TFA teachers and staff who make up nearly half of our staff.
While I’m deeply tied to my students, families and faculty here in Philadelphia, I would have relished the opportunity to do this work in my hometown. I am confident that future TFA teachers – with the opportunity to do such important work in a wonderful city – will fall in love with Buffalo. I am eager to watch the collaboration blossom.
Peter Langer, a former Buffalonian, is a principal and Teach for America alumnus.