Education Spotlight: Teach for America corps members help students find path to college


Teach for America is a national non-profit organization partners with communities to inspire the next generation of leaders to address unequal educational opportunities that fall along the lines of race and class. These students begin this lifelong work with an initial two-year commitment to teach in some of the nation’s most underserved schools.

One of these leaders is Taylor Lifka, a member of Teach For America’s 2017 corps. After graduating from Denison College, Lifka joined the corps and accepted a position to teach freshman English at Roma High School. Along with fellow TFA corps member Alejandra Contreras-Macias, she has been a sponsor of Gladiators Go To College. This program, founded in 2007, is offered to sophomores and juniors, and gives students the opportunity to travel to Boston over spring break. Students visit top tier colleges, including Harvard, MIT, Brown, Tufts, Boston College, Wellesley and Boston University. While there, they ask questions, engage with current college students, and think critically about what they’re looking for in an undergraduate program. For many students, they are the first member of their family to apply to college and without this program they would not have the chance to explore educational options outside of the Valley.

“I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to work with the Gladiators Go to College program,” Lifka said. “I know that all of our students here at Roma High School are capable of success, and this trip serves as a reminder to our kids of all the wonderful possibilities that are within their reach. Being a sponsor for the Boston trip keeps me grounded in the work that I do day to day in the classroom and reminds me that, together with my students, we are working toward a bigger goal after graduation.”

Lifka views the program as crucial to exposing her students to opportunities to realize their potential.

“Looking at colleges outside of Texas may not be something that some students have ever considered,” she said. “Gladiators Go to College gives them a broader understanding of liberal arts vs. state schools, financial aid, the common app, and many other crucial components to the college application process necessary for their continued success.”

Sponsors like Lifka and Contreras-Macias work hard all year to make the trip a success, leading all aspects from logistics to fundraising to chaperoning travel.

The impact the program has on students is clear. As a junior, Maritza Garcia had the opportunity to be part of the trip.

“I think being from a small town can make it hard to realize that there is so much more out there than what we consider to be normal,” she said. “This is why Gladiators Go To College was so important to me. The trip allowed me to see the opportunities and what may become of my future with hard work and dedication.”

For Lifka, supporting students like Garcia aligns well with her commitment to the movement of educational equity and helps bring to life the learning she shares in the classroom.

“As educators we are allies with our students in this daunting college process,” Lifka said. “We function as listening ears, springboards for new ideas, and overall support for our students as they navigate through a very important time in their lives.”