May 09, 2018

Coleman Fitch hopes to make a difference teaching in St. Louis

by Christi Mathis

Coleman FitchCARBONDALE, Ill. — Coleman Fitch wants to make a difference beginning Day One in his teaching career. Thanks to the Teach for America program, he will be doing just that after graduating from Southern Illinois University Carbondale this week.

Making an impact in St. Louis

Fitch, of West Frankfort, will receive his diploma in history with a minor in English/creative writing during Saturday’s 9 a.m. commencement and this fall, he’ll be teaching high school English, primarily to low-income, underserved students in St. Louis.

“I feel incredibly honored to be admitted to TFA,” Fitch said. “This program has an incredibly strong reputation for many different reasons, and to be able to contribute to its cause with some of the most promising change agents across the country is both a dream come true and a welcomed challenge.”

He’ll serve for two years in the metro area through the TFA program.

Helped children improve reading skills with Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps

Fitch said he believes he’s prepared for the challenges ahead thanks to the education and experience he received at SIU. In addition to earning his academic credentials, complete with classroom teaching experience, he was chosen to participate in SIU’s Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps.

Each week since August, Fitch travelled to DeSoto Grade School to help students in grades K-5 who weren’t reading at the appropriate grade level. In conjunction with the district’s Reading Response to Intervention program, he focused mainly on helping the children with phonetics, comprehension and other literary elements, trying to help them catch up.

“Seeing their growth and excitement as they entered the classroom has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Fitch, the son of Mark Fitch and Tonya Sasade, said.

AmeriCorps is one of the most important and invaluable programs in the country, Fitch believes, and he will happily tout the benefits to anyone who will listen.

Indeed, the AmeriCorps experience was a major impetus for Fitch to apply to TFA.

Putting experience to the test

“I was interested in TFA because the work they do is, in my opinion, some of the most important and crucial work you can imagine: teaching students who primarily come from low-income backgrounds while attempting to break down the barriers that prevent them from obtaining educational equity,” Fitch said. “A sizeable portion of the students at DeSoto come from similar backgrounds, as did I, and this experience inspired me to take my work to the next level.”

Fitch said he has several goals as a teacher in St. Louis, and of course, providing the best education he possibly can to his students is the top priority. But, he wants to do more than that.

“One of my main goals is to provide a safe space for them, one in which they can really be listened to and valued for who they are as people and not seen for the neighborhood they come from or any other socioeconomic factor,” he said.

TFA helps place promising teachers in underserved regions

TFA is a non-profit organization founded in 1990 to create an equalized educational opportunity for children in underserved areas by providing an enhanced learning experience. It accomplishes this by choosing promising young teachers from universities across the country and pairing them with K-12 classrooms in school districts within 53 U.S. regions where there are identified needs.

Each educator selected as a “corps” member pledges a two-year commitment and strives to go beyond traditional classroom teaching expectations to help students grow personally and academically and in so doing, strengthen the schools as well.

An honor to be chosen

Typically, less than 15 percent of the applicants are chosen as TFA corps members.  

“It’s exciting that Coleman has been selected to Teach for America. Graduates from across the country apply for this program and to get selected is quite an honor,” Mythili Rundblad, who as coordinator of the Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism supervised Fitch’s AmeriCorps experience.

”Given Coleman’s dedication to impacting the lives of youth, his leadership skills and his outstanding experience as a tutor and mentor in Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps, it is not surprising that he will be joining this program upon graduation. He will make a real difference for many school children,” Rundblad added.

Fitch and his new fellow selectees will receive several weeks of special training this summer from TFA before heading to their assignments. Studies indicate that while the TFA teachers are new to the teaching field, their student learning outcomes often surpass those taught by typical peers.

Future plans include school leadership and perhaps politics

After finishing his commitment with TFA, Fitch plans to remain in the field of education, eventually transitioning into a larger leadership role inside of the school system.

“I’d really like to work with communities to expand access to quality preschool programs, perhaps even running for local office someday to bring those plans to fruition.”