By Dr. Monique Perry-Graves
Executive Director, Teach for America North Carolina
Hey, y’all! I am excited to have the opportunity to write a blog post for WGU. Like many of you, I have always worked a full-time job and been a parent while finishing all my college work – yes, all three degrees! And, I was a single mom too, and became one at a young age. While you are reading this at the mid-way chapter of my book, it was a foundation of teachers and educators from throughout my journey that believed in my potential and was a springboard for my success.
I grew up in the Triangle area and attended Wake County Public Schools. While I had a number of teachers who impacted me throughout my journey, there was one during my senior year of high school whose support was pivotal during a distinctive and defining year: my twelfth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Kendra Hege-Gallos. Not only did she lead a rigorous classroom in one of my favorite subjects, she was also the Yearbook Advisor, of which I was a Section Editor. She played a major part in what would turn out to be quite a memorable year, not only because of my participation on the Yearbook staff, but because I also learned I was pregnant and had to prepare for the arrival of my son. To the naked eye, I could have appeared as a stereotype or having arrived at a fork in the road of life that could derail me. But things are never that simple, and that is not my story.
I was (and am!) the daughter of two college-educated, middle-class parents, college sweethearts who now have been married over 50 years. My mother chose to stay home with me in my younger years, giving me close attention and instruction, fostering my love of reading and learning. Her choice, and her privilege, set me up for a lifetime of success. It was the foundation built by my parents and my faith, as well as the encouragement of Mrs. Hege-Gallos, that allowed me to continue my educational journey and life path.
Never, not for a moment, was my potential brought into question. Mrs. Hege-Gallos and all my teachers never doubted my aptitude or belittled my ambition. I graduated from high school on time, and then matriculated to North Carolina Central University. As a proud Eagle, my son is also a college grad of North Carolina A&T State University and a third-generation college student.
That unconditional belief and support is what I want for every student in North Carolina. I know firsthand how powerful it is to be educated by people who truly believe in the potential of their students. I also know the uphill battle every student faces on their way to meeting that potential, some impacted exponentially more than others. We are also still working to remedy the impact of COVID-19 in a world that will never be the same, but one that we must stay focused on ensuring our children are ready to pursue their wildest dreams when they graduate.
So, when I took on the role of Executive Director with Teach For America North Carolina, leading TFA’s statewide efforts after a decade-plus in community college administration, it was just as much of a personal choice as it was professional. Every educator I have ever encountered never doubted me and saw things in me that I am only starting to see now, if I am being honest. Imagine how our students would thrive if they knew everyone was rooting for them to achieve not only the benchmarks we’ve set for their performance but also their wildest dreams. That possible future fuels me and the body of leaders I am a part of in Teach For America’s significant network of over 2,000 alumni and close to 200 educators in classrooms statewide.
Our students don’t have time to wait for us to consider solutions to educational inequity from a distance. That’s why we invite leaders from across the country to choose North Carolina as the place to join the movement by experiencing the potential of our students — as well as the daily challenges they face — firsthand. With a two-year commitment to classroom leadership and a lifelong commitment to changing the trajectory of North Carolina’s students, we truly believe that the status quo of student performance will be far surpassed rather than inconsistently met.
Teach for America North Carolina has attracted some phenomenal educators and leaders to the movement of education in the classroom and outside of it, all of whom are committed to the potential of all kids. TFA North Carolina alumni across the state are serving as critical educators and school leaders. Leaders like Jared Gatewood, Assistant Principal of the Year at Union County Schools; Dr. Elena Ashburn, Area Superintendent in Wake County; Eric Sanchez, Founder of Henderson Collegiate; and veteran Science Teacher and TikTok-famous Nancy Bullard are four of our alumni who are making a major impact on children’s lives every day.
The obligation to the communities we serve does not end when our corps members' commitment is over in the classroom. Alumni are also leading education-focused nonprofits and organizations, knowing there is always leadership to provide and work to be done in the fight for educational equity. Ian Joyce, Executive Director and Co-Founder of GenOne Charlotte, Latoya Faustin of She Built this City, and Elaina Sabatine of Eastern NC STEM – leaders and TFA North Carolina alumni all.
No matter where you’re from, no matter what path you took to get to WGU, if you’re anything like me — who was an eager college student, an English major, a corporate intern, and so on — then I know you too will find your place in the future of education. WGU has and continues to provide a strong pathway of opportunity, education, and access that offers a great foundation for joining us in the commitment to kids. Of course, as you consider your plans post-graduation, we would love for you to consider applying to join the movement with us at TFA North Carolina in our Charlotte, Piedmont-Triad or Eastern North Carolina areas.
But, regardless of your path, please know that in addition to Chancellor Ben Coulter and your entire WGU family, folks like me also believe in your highest potential and ability to make a tremendous impact. I am proud to root for you and continue to support you as you complete your journey with WGU North Carolina. We need you!
The next application deadline for the 2023 Teach For America corps is February 10. Learn more and apply today!