Teach for America has dispatched its first crop of 44 new teacher recruits to 15 Chicago public schools on the West Side.

“The schools participating all have a critical mass for vacancies,” says Marion Hodges, executive director for the Chicago district, which opened here this summer.

Teach for America, a national program that recruits fresh college graduates to teach in inner-city and rural schools, will be working in schools based in West Side neighborhoods that generally have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, Hodges says.

They will teach bilingual, special education and regular elementary classes. Teach for America tries to match school district needs to the skills of its teachers, says Hodges.

“The need for special education [in Chicago] will be taken into consideration more heavily next year,” she says.

Chicago’s new teaching corps attended a five-week, intensive training session in Houston, which included up to two hours daily of team-teaching in summer school classrooms.

Teach for America recruits will be eligible for alternative certification after teaching one year, following evaluation by teachers and administrators and taking educational theory and philosophy courses at National Louis University.

As the partner university for the program, National-Louis designed the curriculum for Teach for America’s recruits. They will also have the support of Teach for America’s large alumni base. “We want to be as involved as we can,” says alumnus Michael Lach. “Whether it’s getting equipment for schools or just more of a social thing, I see [the alumni partnership] as a dual role.”

Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach for America 10 years ago, says her organization is inspired by Chicago’s active involvement in school improvement. “Seeing how many good things are happening there is part of what makes us so excited to be coming there.”

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