Growing up in Detroit, Nicole Baker Fulgham was fortunate to attend a magnet school where most graduates went on to college. The neighborhood school many of her friends attended had a 50 percent dropout rate, no AP classes, and very few grads who earned a college degree. One of her best friends had never heard of the sat until her senior year, when Nicole mentioned it. "I was devastated that the school system seemed to assume she wouldn't go to college," Fulgham says. "That moment stayed with me and continues to motivate me today."
After graduating from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English, Fulgham joined Teach for America (TFA), an organization that helps children and youth in low-income communities receive a better education. She taught fifth grade in Compton, California, leading her students to the highest academic gains of any fifth-grade class in the district. She later earned a Ph.D. at UCLA, focusing on urban education policy and teacher preparation. She rejoined TFA, where she now serves as vice president of faith community relations, building awareness about educational inequity and ways that people of faith can support TFA's mission: "I want to see faith communities prioritize educational equality as one of their top social causes."
Question & Answer
Your favorite teacher growing up?
Mrs. Scharfenberg, my seventh-grade teacher. She expected more from us than any other teacher in my school. She wouldn't hear excuses or tolerate misbehavior. And everyone rose to the occasion. She also helped me believe I was a unique and special kid—which was impressive, since I was in the middle of my awkward phase.
What is Teach for America about?
Our mission is to help kids in low-income communities obtain the education they deserve. We enlist our country's future leaders from all academic majors to teach in rural and urban public schools.
Define "educational inequity."
A child's Zip Code shouldn't determine whether he or she is prepared for college. Unfortunately, that disparity is very real; only half of the kids in low-income communities graduate from high school. And those who do graduate are performing, on average, at an eighth-grade level. Kids in wealthier communities are outperforming their counterparts in poorer neighborhoods by three grade levels by the time they reach fourth grade.
Does Scripture speak to the topic of education?
The Bible encourages us to work on behalf of those in need. Children are among the most vulnerable in our society, and as Christians we must advocate on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves. Christians can be an awesome example of God's love by helping to ensure that our most vulnerable children get an excellent education.
How can the church help?
The church can be a unique moral voice and advocate for kids in low-income communities. Christians can step out to work for social issues like HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and poverty. There's no way we can eliminate poverty without giving kids in poverty the education they deserve.
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