Teach For America: Supporting Dallas Schools in Transition

Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Hunter Lacey.

In the two weeks that followed the October 20th tornado which tore through North Dallas neighborhoods, the teachers and administration of Thomas Jefferson High School have taken on a massive transition. The school took a direct hit and sustained major damage. In order to get students back to school as quickly as possible, the Edison Learning Center, nine miles south of TJ High, opened its doors once again to teenagers and their teachers.

While there is appreciation due to the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) teams that arranged space and transportation in such a short period of time, transitioning an entire student body to a practically empty space is challenging for everyone involved. That is where the team at Teach For America (TFA) is able to step in and offer support. Starting in 2009, Teach For America has worked in the Dallas region as part of a national movement committed to bringing change for students by placing education leaders in schools where they are able to confront educational inequity. The Dallas-Fort Worth arm of TFA includes around 1,400 alumni, 600 teachers, and 150 administrative leaders. “The Teach For America Corps is made up of emerging leaders,” said Cary Wright, Executive Director of TFA-DFW. “Three of the nine current DISD Board of Trustees are Teach For America alumni.”


While just a few of Thomas Jefferson’s teachers are in the Teach For America Corps, the TFA team is using their relationships and knowledge to serve the entire staff during a difficult period of change. Starting this past Monday, TFA partnered with Ruthie’s Food Trucks to provide lunch to the staff at the new Thomas Jefferson location in West Dallas. “Our teachers tell us it is these events that are the most touching to them,” said Katelyn Hall, Director of Annual Giving for TFA-DFW. “When small business owners take time to help, they notice.”

The community continued to serve Thomas Jefferson teachers throughout the week. On Thursday, volunteers gathered to assemble carts of classroom gifts for each high school teacher in the Edison building. “We collected non-traditional supplies like lamps, rugs, and little succulents to help create a safe, supportive, and stable environment for students,” said Katelyn. The Edison campus is a blank canvas for the relocated teachers who lost everything during the destructive tornado. Instructional materials were also destroyed. “We are also working to recreate some anchor charts to get back on the classroom walls,” Katelyn said, referring to large posters with curriculum basics.


Teachers from around Dallas have offered time and resources, one teacher even driving to the Edison campus from Carrollton during her planning period to set up the initial classrooms. This Friday volunteers and the TFA-DFW team delivered the carts of supplies and posters to a school full of grateful teachers. Katelyn helped to hang the anchor charts and offer hugs. Principal Sandi Massey took note of the outreach and encouraged everyone to stay connected to the school. “Supplies will go fast, and while DISD will keep us stocked, our teachers will still need to replace things they’ve lost. And more than anything, they need your encouraging words and emotional support.”


The corporate community has also showed up in a big way to support DISD and the work of Teach For America during the tornado response. AT&T provided $20,000 in critical funding to fuel TFA-DFW tornado relief efforts, supporting the organization’s leaders at every level of the local education system, including TFA teachers placed in schools that were damaged or destroyed as well as alumni leaders working to accelerate recovery in the region.


Texas Instruments, which sustained tornado damage to its own Dallas campus, has stepped in as an invaluable partner to TFA-DFW, granting $25,000 used to support TFA corps members and alumni in a number of ways, including the creation of care packages and the replacement of vital STEM resources, such as interactive technology and lab materials. Texas Instruments is helping TFA teachers meet both basic needs in their new learning environments as well as continue to engage students in enriching, hands-on academics critical in the STEM space.

Cary Wright, Executive Director

Cary Wright, Executive Director

Katelyn Hall, Director of Annual Giving

Katelyn Hall, Director of Annual Giving

As gifts and resources come in, Cary is determined to listen and plan carefully for how TFA-DFW will continue to help. “We know that STEM equipment is a huge priority to replace right now, and we will continue to raise and hold funds for what is most needed because we are facing a long term need,” he said. Katelyn added that the best way for Dallas-area residents to lend support is to stay in conversation with the TFA-DFW team. “We have launched a TFA PTA that allows anyone to come and partner with us, and take ownership of the schools within their own neighborhoods that are under-resourced.”

Vanessa Somchith, Thomas Jefferson High School teacher.

Vanessa Somchith, Thomas Jefferson High School teacher.

Altogether, this community of educators, students, and volunteers is determined to create a new home and a fresh sense of school spirit for Thomas Jefferson High School, as long as they call the Edison Learning Center home.

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