Graduate, then change the world

By Stephanie Antonetti ’16

Staff Writer

Senior year is turning out to be everything I hoped it would. I completed all my major requirements, I’ve participated in a number of service events on campus and I’ve stayed happily busy with all of the other organizations I am a part of at Denison. The only downside to this year? The fact that it will end in May.

When I first arrived on campus, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation. I took a bunch of classes and I liked them all, but I kept coming back to everything I learned in the education class. When I was little I would line up my stuffed animals and coerce my brother into joining the crowd, yet I balked when I reached high school and everyone began to tell me that I would one day be a teacher. Was teaching really for me?

It wasn’t until my freshman year of college when I had the opportunity to work in an inclusive classroom that I started to realize my passion for education. The deeper I got into the work the more I came to understand the severity of the resource and opportunity gaps between middle and upper-income students.

This isn’t fair. I know how many doors my education has opened for me, and I believe that every student, regardless of her zip code or parents’ income level, deserves a quality education.

This belief led me to Teach For America and the career I’ll begin in education this fall. Everything about it makes me anxious. Will I be good enough for my kids? Will I feel at home in my new city? But I’m sustained by what I know. Education isn’t serving all kids in this country. We’ve got to be a part of changing this.

Doing so won’t be easy. The problems in our schools don’t start there – they reflect deep, systemic, overlapping injustices across race, class and geography. A family who can’t access health services struggles to keep both parents employed. Those working multiple jobs need after school care but don’t live in communities with the resources to provide it.

Each inequity makes the next one worse.

When we choose to teach, we choose to disrupt this cycle. Outside of my studies and work with the Panhellenic Council, Tri Delta, Kappa Delta Pi and the Order of Omega, I’m fortunate to spend a few hours every week working with students at Newark High School. My time tutoring is a sharp contrast to the bubble of life on campus. Every week I work with students in the AOS (formerly known as CTAG, Closing The Achievement Gap) program, assisting with homework and mentoring the students through tough times and decisions. Despite all the challenges these students face, both inside and outside of the classroom, they’re some of the brightest, boldest minds I’ve met. All they need is some extra motivation and an extra someone who believes in them in order to succeed. Spending time with them has become my favorite few hours of the week.

When we come together to help kids change the way they think about their own abilities and futures, we create classrooms full of students who are dreaming big. When we equip them with the skills and tools to thrive in and out of the classroom, we cultivate boundless potential – the future scientists, politicians, writers, artists, doctors, attorneys who shape the world we are all going to share. It won’t happen overnight. It will take sustained, thoughtful effort. I want to be a part of it.

I don’t know exactly where this next step will take me. If I love teaching as much as I think I might, I’ll keep at it. Or maybe I’ll lead a school, or launch a startup to address some of challenges my students face. Wherever I go, I’ll empower my students to break the cycle and strive to become part of a better one.

Next fall I’ll begin my work as a special education teacher in New Orleans with Teach For America. I can’t wait for school to start.