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Teach For America: ‘There Is a Need for More Latino Teachers’

Giving back is what led Natasha Borja Chavarro, 25, to become a teacher.

When she moved to Miami from Colombia as a young girl she didn't speak any English. She credits her first teacher for influencing her life in a positive way - not only teaching her the basics of the language, but also helping her assimilate culturally into a new world where she would eventually excel.

Upon graduating from college, Borja Chavarro decided she wanted to do the same for others, which led her to become a Teach for America corps member, a national organization she had heard fellow graduates speaking about.

Students at Bedstuy Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo of 7th grade students at Bedstuy Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, New York. Teach For America

"I figured it was the perfect opportunity for me to do the same with other students…help them get into college, to get a degree and the education that they deserved," explains Borja Chavarro, currently a 7th grade math teacher at the Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate Charter School in Brooklyn, NY. She started out in the apprentice program at Teach for America in 2014 and since then has taught math to over one hundred kids over the last two years.

Teach for America places college graduates in schools across the country for a two-year commitment and wants to see more college grads like Chavarro join their ranks.

Chavarro tells NBC Latino she aims to teach her students more than just math skills, using her own experiences as an example. "I think that by emphasizing the power of being bilingual, and taking pride in being Latino/Latina or Hispanic, that is a way that I am able to help my students find their voice in the classroom," adds Chavarro.

Photo of TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva at Summit
Photo of TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva at Summit Teach for America

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Teach for America recently celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a summit in Washington, D.C. to address the critical needs of Latino students. Items on the agenda included exploring the barriers students from low-income barriers face in completing college as well as the role poverty plays in decreased educational opportunities.

However, the organization's biggest hurdle has been trying to ensure that teachers reflect the diversity of the communities that they serve.

"There is a need for more Latino teachers," explains Patricia Leon Guerrero, Teach for America's Senior Managing Director for its Latino Community Initiative.

"Within our public schools today, 25 percent of all students identify as being Latino, and nationally 7.8 percent of all teachers identify as Latino. What would it look like to have equal representation? How can we get a teaching force that is more reflective of the community?" adds Guerrero, a first generation Colombian-American and former TFA corps member.

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She admits that there is yet work to be done, since out of fifty thousand corps members, only 4,000 are Latino.

But Leon Guerrero adds that "thirty percent of our Latino alumni stay and continue to teach in their communities."

The organization is actively seeking to recruit more college graduates to serve as teachers and leaders in low-income communities across the nation beginning with a two-year commitment to teach in high-need schools. Teach for America is still accepting applications for the next term until March 4.

Natasha Borja Chavarro's decision to make a difference in the classroom inspired those closest to her. "I recruited my little sister and I got her to join the corp, " explains Chavarro. "She got the chance to come and see me in the classroom… to see the passion I have for my students," says Chavarro.

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