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She's taking aim at reading scores

New teacher plans to make an impact on students in low-income school districts.

July 27, 2011|By Stephanie Ghiya

Selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants, La Cañada native Monica Mello joins Teach For America's corps this fall with the goal of seeing each of her 10th-grade students pass the California exit exam. Mello will be one of 290 corps members teaching in Los Angeles.

Teach For America is a national organization comprising top recent college graduates who commit to teach at a low-income school site for two years. During these two years, Mello will work in tandem with an instructional coach and her school's administration to set ambitious, measurable goals for her students.

“We are thrilled that Monica Mello has joined Teach For America,” said Carrie James, spokesperson for the group. “We are so excited to see Monica's impact on her students and her overall contribution to the effort to achieve educational excellence and equity.”

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After being graduated from La Cañada High School in 2006, Mello studied English and creative writing at the University of Washington. While in Seattle, she worked as a teacher's aide at a low-income school, where she witnessed the discrepancy in academic achievement between students in La Cañada and those she was working with.

“It was really upsetting to see these 10th graders reading at a third-grade level,” Mello said. “My senior year I decided I wanted to work at low-income schools, I wanted to do my part in giving back — I felt obligated to.”

Mello returned to California to earn a master's degree in teaching with a preliminary single-subject credential in English from the University of Southern California. Faced with the slow job market, Mello heeded a friend's suggestion to research the Teach For America program.

“I got really, really excited because that's what I'm passionate about,” Mello said. “One of our country's biggest problems is educational inequity and if we can get a bunch of young, enthusiastic, intelligent, motivated people into the classroom, then we're slowly starting to eliminate this gap.”

Nearly 48,000 individuals applied to this year's program and Mello was among the 11% accepted. Incoming corps members earned an average undergraduate GPA of 3.6 and all held leadership positions in college.

“This year's incoming corps members represent a wide variety of background and experiences,” said Wendy Kopp, founder and chief executive of Teach for America. “But they share extraordinary leadership ability and a deep commitment to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

In addition to seeing all of her high school sophomore students pass the exit exam, Mello said she will work hard to help each improve their reading level by one-and-a-half to two years. Despite the challenges Mello expects to face, she intends to prove to her students that their voices matter.

“We had a day last week where I knew we would end early and I could do whatever I wanted; and so I had them write ‘Just Because' poems,” said Mello. “A lot of them wrote about their racial identity. One girl wrote, ‘Just because I'm black doesn't mean I'm from the ghetto.' I had them share and it was awesome.”

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