Trista Szocs credits her education for giving her the opportunity to excel. Now, the 2006 North Ridgeville High School valedictorian wants to give other students that chance.
Szocs, 22, has been selected to join Teach For America, a national corps of top college graduates who make a two-year commitment to teach in urban and rural low-income districts.
“Throughout my education in North Ridgeville and college, I had some great opportunities and mentors,” Szocs said via phone from New Orleans, where she was preparing to start the school year. “This is a really great time to give back to those less fortunate.”
She graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Penn., in January with degrees in English and psychology. Szocs will teaching sixth- and ninth-grade math.
She explained that upon completion of her two-year obligation, she will be certified to teach, although she said she has not yet decided to pursue a career in education.
“Right now, I’m just really focused and excited about the school year,” she said.
When asked if she was nervous about the upcoming academic year, she responded, “I wouldn’t say nervous. More excited and challenged.
“It took a lot of work to get into the program. It was a really daunting thing.”
Being selected for the program was a rigorous process. Information provided by Teach For America stated a record 46,000 applications were filed this year, with an acceptance rate of just 12 percent, or 4,500 new teachers. The recent college graduates came from all academic majors and backgrounds and demonstrated “outstanding achievement, perseverance, and leadership.”
The process began with applications, which included essays concerning both professional and college experiences, and then moved on to phone interviews. A “sample teach” was also observed by Teach For America representatives. Once past those hurdles, Szocs moved on to Atlanta, one of several Teach For America training sites. There, she and about 500 other trainees spent six weeks teaching summer school.
“My college and education really prepared me for this and gave me a strong work ethic,” she said.
Szocs commented there was a big gap between “growing up in North Ridgeville, where I got a good education, and coming into an area where the students are two years behind.”
Although she had thought about teaching throughout her academic career, Szocs is not sure where her experience will lead her. She added the key to students’ success ultimately relies on the teachers.
“I really believe children need highly motivated teachers,” she said. “This is especially important in many urban areas.
“Males in low income areas are more likely to attend prison than attend high school.”
Her goal for the school year is to get her students up to their appropriate grade levels in math.
“I hope my students increase two grade levels by the end of the year,” she said, “and score above average in the state (standardized) tests.”