Spring 2001, Volume 37, No. 2

Contents

FEATURE
Lives of a Saint

SPECIAL SECTION
Altruism 101
Reach Out!
Venture Catalysts
Sagehens in Paradise

DEPARTMENTS
-Pomona Forum-
Altruism 101
-News Print-
Professor's Philosophy of Life Unshaken

-Pomona Today-
Professor of the Year
Inside the Power Crunch
Rite of Passage
Top Five
Frats with a Difference
Bridge Over the Pacific

-New Knowledge-
The Secrets of the Hydra
-Sports Report-
Dynamic Duos
-Bookshelf-
Getting On
Threshholding
George Moore
-Campaign Update-
American Dreams

ALUMNI VOICES
-Parlor Talk-
Traditions
-Family Tree-
Allen-Lee-Kingman-McDonald
-Alumni Profile-
Casey Trupin '95
-Alumni Puzzler-
Inside-Out
-Back Cover-
Pilgrims' Progress



 

 


Photos by David Zaitz

Jessica Kramer '00 is teaching her class of 20 kindergartners how to write the letter P. Dressed in "kindergarten casual" and speaking in a practiced kindergarten voice, she coaches them: "Down... Stop. Around... Stop."

   Most of her primarily Latino children make nice plump capital P's. Occasionally she prompts one of them in Spanish (her minor at Pomona). She has organized the class into short activity modules to minimize the natural squirminess of five-year-olds. Most can write their names, or type them on the Macintosh LCII in the corner. Most can write short sentences in the journals they keep.
   Half an hour away, Laura DeRoche '00 stands at the head of a class of ninth-graders, helping them correct run-on sentences in essays about Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet--a tale ninth-graders can easily relate to. Sentences from their essays are displayed on an overhead, which she edits and re-edits in response to suggestions from the students. Their essay assignment was to decide who was responsible for the lovers' deaths and to explain why they think so. DeRoche, who hails from Wisconsin, speaks to her class in language accessible to teenagers.
   "Any of you guys have issues with this sentence?" The comments from the class are not too tactful, but definitely show that the students know the score with run-on sentences. Brittany: "That sentence is too complicated!" Genaro, to Chris, the author: "That should be capitalized... You don't know how to, or you just don't like to?" The students are struggling with the task of putting together coherent essays, but they are taking it seriously.
   A large chart on the wall, titled (somewhat indignantly) "Is this English??" lists "translations" of words and phrases from Shakespeare into present-day English. Without making too obvious a point of it, DeRoche has encouraged her students, mostly either Latino or African-American, to think about different versions of English and when it may be appropriate to use them. There are only 10 students in the room, but another chart on the wall ("Where have YOU been?") suggests that attendance varies from day to day and that as many as half the students may be absent on a bad day.
   Just to the north, Paul Ceron '99 is helping his third-graders understand a bus boycott, in connection with their observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Most of his class is Latino. Most are fluent in English, but for those who are not, Ceron, who is bilingual, mixes in some Spanish to keep them from getting lost. Occasionally he asks a student to explain something in Spanish for a floundering classmate. This provides a helping hand for those still unsteady with English and allows Ceron to monitor how well the explainer understands the material. Most of the students seem to understand the purpose of a boycott--the bus company loses money if people don't ride and will be eager to see the unfair laws changed. Some of them relate the bus boycott to the lettuce boycott organized by Cesar Chavez. The kids are pretty wiggly but seem to have the skills one would expect from third-graders.
   Kramer teaches in Watts, DeRoche in Compton and Ceron in Lynwood, all Southern California communities underserved by their educational systems. These new teachers are part of a growing number of recent Pomona alumni who have put their long-term career plans on hold in order to commit a few years of their lives to community service.
   For these three, the agency involved is Teach for America (TFA), but other Pomona graduates have chosen to devote a year or two of their lives to such service organizations as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or the New York City Teaching Fellows.
   Part of the oft-maligned "Generation X," many of today's Pomona graduates, like other new graduates around the country, are showing signs that the generational pendulum may have turned. After growing up amid the "me generation" of the 1980s, many have grown disenchanted with what they see as a culture of self-absorption.
   "In our culture we're really focused on monetary success, economic wealth, material possessions," Ceron says, "But we're part of a community. There's a whole world out there that needs change, and I feel this is one of the best ways I could have done that. At Pomona College we are all incredibly privileged, and I think it's our responsibility to give back some."
   Sarah Hahn '01, who has applied to TFA for next year, takes very seriously the text on Pomona's gate--‘They only are loyal to this college who bear their added riches in trust for mankind.' "That's something I really believe in," she says. "Education and knowledge have to have a point."
   These young people see their choices as growing out of, not contradicting, their high-achievement college experience. DeRoche was attracted to TFA for some of the same reasons she was drawn to Pomona. "The number of bright, motivated people at TFA made me want to be part of the organization, just as that same factor made me want to come to Pomona."
   Amy Roza '99, a TFA member now teaching pre-kindergarten in Washington, D.C., knew she wanted to do something in the nonprofit world after college. "I knew equal access to quality education is a key component to the solutions of a number of social issues," she says. "Teen pregnancy, cycles of poverty, cycles of imprisonment, justice issues in this country--take your pick. So the Teach for America mission spoke to me."
   Are young people nowadays really more inclined toward community service than in the recent past? Heather Pirot, assistant director of career development at Pomona, thinks the answer is yes.
   Twenty students applied to TFA last year, and over 40 turned up at their October information session for next year. "This is our largest group of Teach for America applicants ever, and I think this year's group of Peace Corps applicants has to be one of our largest," Pirot said. "In the four years I've been here, it seems to me that interest in these programs is certainly growing."
   That impression is borne out pretty clearly in the records of the Peace Corps, which will soon celebrate its 40th anniversary. Very active in its first decade, the Peace Corps suffered a lull in the '70s and '80s. By 1992, there were fewer than 5,000 Peace Corps volunteers. As interest in community service has waxed again, so have the fortunes of the Peace Corps, which now has over 7,300 volunteers serving in 76 countries--the highest level since 1974.
   The same pattern is evident on the domestic front. AmeriCorps, established in 1993, is the descendant of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Begun in 1964, shortly after the Peace Corps, VISTA also suffered a lull. Today there are nearly 40,000 AmeriCorps members serving with local organizations like Habitat for Humanity or the American Red Cross.
   The privately funded Teach for America is perhaps the clearest indicator of all that service is back on young people's minds. Created by the senior thesis of a Princeton student, TFA has grown in only 10 years to 1,500 teachers in 15 locations around the country. After an intense five-week "boot camp" (both Ceron and DeRoche describe it that way), members are hired by the local districts at regular beginning teacher salaries. Teach for America continues to monitor and support them as they cope with the challenges of first-year teaching in a difficult environment.
   Diane Robinson, the executive director of Teach for America in Los Angeles, says 90 percent of members hang in the full two years, and that 60 percent stay in education beyond that time. In comparison, the drop-out rate among first-year teachers outside the program is as high as 50 percent in some areas.
   For Hahn, who plans to get a Ph.D. in English literature after her tour of duty as a teacher, a turning point was the parent-teacher conferences she attended with the Upward Bound student she was tutoring while at Pomona. "I was unprepared for some of what I heard and saw," she explains. "The problems of under-resourced schools, against which I was fighting as part of the Upward Bound program--overcrowding, outdated and scarce textbooks, teacher burnout--all of that became a hard reality. It seemed in many ways that the education my student was receiving was in no way comparable to the decent one I had received, also at a public school."
   Like Hahn, most graduates who opt for service after college already have the community service habit. While at Pomona, DeRoche, who majored in English and minored in politics, taught a couple of high school English classes in a program called College Bound, which prepares minority students for college. She describes herself as "passionate about public policy, particularly education policy. I decided that experiencing the day-to-day problems and triumphs of an under-resourced school would someday make me a much more effective policy-maker."
   DeRoche, like many young people in TFA or the Peace Corps, started off thinking about the impact she could have on the world and was surprised by the impact the experience had on her own life. Hooked on the rewards of working with kids, she now plans to teach beyond her two-year commitment with TFA.
   Teach for America frequently lures people into long-term teaching careers. The Peace Corps impact is more complicated. Many volunteers become fluent in a second language. Many suffer culture shock when they leave, and then reverse culture shock when they return. Some find their sense of themselves as Americans is never quite the same.
   In the words of Rebecca Coolidge '97, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, "the Peace Corps makes you define your goals." She spent two years teaching English in Cameroon, and then another year and a half supervising a program in Cote d'Ivoire. Now she is teaching reading to seventh graders in New Hampshire and plotting her return to living abroad.
   Esther Limb '97 recently returned from a Peace Corps posting in Ukraine, teaching high school English. Another politics major, she is now a marketing associate at an Internet company in San Francisco. Like many Peace Corps volunteers, she acquired a foreign language, in her case Russian. As a Korean-American, she found it easier than her non-hyphenated fellow volunteers to blend into a foreign country, since she was not immediately presumed to be American. But like Coolidge, she now hankers to return to living abroad, maybe permanently.
   For many Pomona students from the '60s, such stories of lives changed by service sound very familiar.
   Stephen Schaffran '67, who took a sabbatical from college to spend two years (1962-64) with the Peace Corps in Peru, still describes himself as a "venture catalyst." The most lasting influence of his years in the Peace Corps, he says, has been his fluency in Spanish. In fact, this permanent enrichment has extended to a second generation. His children heard so much Spanish around the house that they both chose to learn it too.
   Fran Davidson '63 spent 1965-67 teaching English in a village in northern Ethiopia. "I had taken medieval history from Mr. Learnihan," she chuckles, "and there I was, living in a medieval village." The experience, she says, colored her whole life. "Until you really live in a Third World country, you have such a limited vision of what the real world is like. The Third World has strengths you don't understand until you live there."
   Yvonne Gritzer '63 spent 1963-65 in the Peace Corps teaching English to French-speaking Cameroonians right after the reunification of francophone East Cameroon with anglophone West Cameroon. Her reasons for taking time out for Peace Corps service sound very much like those given by more recent alumni: "I was reached by the words of President Kennedy, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you...' It was a time for extending beyond racial and cultural divides." Gritzer, a French and comparative literature major, credits the Peace Corps experience with giving her the desire and preparation to go on to graduate school. In fact, she did her master's thesis in French literature on Mongo Beti, a Cameroonian writer. She later married another returned Peace Corps volunteer, and her son Jason has been a volunteer twice, to Cameroon and Bolivia.
   "You might say our family has Peace Corps in the blood," Gritzer laughs.
   Schaffran's son Nate is also continuing the family tradition of community service--working in Nicaragua for a Quaker-run farm coop.
   So maybe it's a generational thing. Certainly, the challenging ring of optimism in Paul Ceron's voice can easily take us back to that earlier era of idealism and hope: "I invite anyone to step up to the challenge and make a difference, not only in your own life but in someone else's life." --Sandy Becker '63 is a research technician at Wesleyan University and a freelance writer.