Catonsville resident starts Teach for America

In her kindergarten class 17 years ago, Jackie Kearney drew a picture of what she wanted to be when she grew up.

The Catonsville resident drew a teacher.

This year, that prophesy is a reality as Kearney begin teaching math at Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts in Baltimore through the program Teach for America.

"It feels so awesome, so exciting," said Kearney, who attended St. Agnes School, then graduated from Seton Keough High School in 2006. "It's a lot of responsibility that comes with having a classroom that is entirely mine, but I'm looking forward to it."

According to its website, Teach for America enlists recent college graduates, trains them and places them in schools in low-income urban and rural areas.

Not everyone qualifies for the program. This year, Teach for America accepted only 5,200 (about 11 percent) of the 48,000 who applied to the program, according to a release from the organization.

The average grade point average of those accepted was 3.6, the release said.

During their two-year commitment, teachers receive a full salary and health benefits from the school district, the website stated.

Kearney said she was forward to working with students who don't have access to the same educational opportunities that she did.

"I chose to apply to Teach for America because I really had a great education growing up," said Kearney, a 2010 graduate of Mount St. Mary's University, in Emmitsburg, with a degree in math and minor in teaching. "I think every child deserves that. I hope to be part of giving that to a student."

Kearney spent most of last year teaching math as a long-term substitute teacher at Catonsville Middle School on Edmondson Avenue.

The Catonsville resident also worked one-on-one with a special needs student last year.

"She did a phenomenal job," Catonsville Middle School principal Michael Thorne said. "She proved to be a natural at working with students who were reluctant to learn. She was able to communicate very well with them and build relationships with them."

After her application for Teach for America was approved, Kearney passed the interview process in March, during which she taught a lesson to other interviewees about adding and subtracting negative numbers.

In mid-April, Kearney learned she had been selected. She spent five weeks training in Philadelphia this summer with other Teach for America teachers.

"It was a lot of work," Kearney said of the training, which included teaching summer school classes. "But I really feel that it prepared me to be here and in the classroom."

Kearney will be in that classroom for the next two years teaching math to special needs students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

The combination of teaching math and working with special needs students is especially appealing to Kearney.

"I get to share what I love," Kearney said about teaching math. "In terms of special education, (the small class sizes) really give me a chance to really know the students."

Mixed with her excitement to meet her students and share her love of math are some butterflies, she said.

"I think every first-year teacher is a bit nervous," Kearney said. "(I hope) to build an environment in my classroom where students are working hard and wanting to learn the material."

Her former boss at Catonsville Middle doesn't think Kearney has any reason to be apprehensive.

"She'll do a fantastic job there because her heart's really into children and teaching," Thorne said. "She's an extremely intelligent young woman. She has outstanding classroom management skills and interpersonal skills."

Asked about her future, Kearney is less certain than she was as a kindergartener but still sees being a teacher figuring prominently in the picture.

"I haven't planned everything out," she said the week before school started. "I probably will stay in teaching.

"Right now, I'm just focused on this year and next week mainly."

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