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Ahern: Beverly student committed to teaching poor children

Eileen Torpy

Eileen Torpy

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Updated: July 3, 2013 6:14AM



When Vice President Joe Biden said, “We must rekindle the fire of idealism in our society,” he may have been talking about someone as idealistic as Eileen Torpy.

Torpy, who grew up in the Beverly community of Chicago, recently graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Instead of sending her resume to countless potential employers, she sent it to only one organization, Teach for America.

It’s a nonprofit group that reaches out to low-income areas of the United States by putting recent college graduates and others into classrooms for a two-year commitment.

Its website says Teach for America started as the brainchild of founder Wendy Kopp, who suggested the idea in 1989 as part of her undergraduate thesis at Princeton University. A year after Kopp’s graduation, her idea became reality when 500 college graduates joined Teach for America.

Now, more than 20 years later, the organization has more than 30,000 participants who have taught more than 3 million children.

Those are heady statistics, and just the sort of idea, the sort of “fire of idealism,” that Torpy embraces.

“I know there is a disparity between high- and lower-income areas,” she said. “I know that there is a serious (theory) that says a ZIP code will determine where someone will get in life. Teach for America is an ally for education reform and helps ensure that kids get opportunities they might not otherwise have.”

Torpy, who graduated with a degree in history and secondary education, said she applied to Teach for America in August and put quite a bit of effort into the application because the organization accepts less than 15 percent of those who apply.

Torpy credited Loras College mentors with her decision to join the organization and explained why she chose Loras after she graduated from Mother McAuley High School in 2009.

“The second I stepped on campus at Loras, I knew it was where I wanted to be,” she said. “Loras encouraged me to be the best version of myself, and I had professors who knew who I was, which was far better for me than being in a lecture hall where I was known only as a number.

“At Loras, there is a focus on service and social justice, and this drew me into the idea of using my career for a great experience and a greater purpose. I really want to be in a position to give opportunities to kids who might not have those opportunities.”

In an email, Maggie Baker, the service learning coordinator of Loras College, was complimentary of Torpy and her decision to join Teach for America.

“As a full-time student, Eileen served over 600 hours in the Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps program at Loras College,” Baker wrote. “The experience taught her the importance of being a responsible contributor to her community outside of the boundaries of a college campus.

“Eileen’s commitment to serving others and being a responsible contributor to her community, in her chosen field of K-12 education, is one of the critical things we are trying to teach at Loras College. She is a shining example of how tomorrow’s generation of leaders will be equipped to meet the great challenges they face.

“Teach for America will help her continue on that path toward her goal of serving with children, families and educators in our nation in an effort to work together to change our education system for the better,” Baker wrote.

Teach for America serves more than 40 areas of the United States, and Torpy was assigned to live and work in Tulsa, Okla. She will leave for Oklahoma later in the summer and will stay for the first five weeks in a residence hall at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa, where she will work for her room and board.

During that initiation period, she will look for an apartment and get ready for the start of the school year. Once she is actually teaching, she will be paid for her work as if she were hired in a more traditional way.

“This is a brand new adventure, and sometimes I get nervous about it,” Torpy said. “I know it will be an adjustment being so far away. I’ve been at college, but that was four hours from home. This is 14 hours away, so this will be pretty different. I’m excited for this new adventure, though.”

Torpy, who has five siblings, said it will be difficult to leave her family, especially her youngest sister, Anna, who is 8 years old. Torpy said Anna is excited about visiting her but not thrilled that she will be away.

“This is the first summer since she was born that I have been away, but I am really looking forward to teaching and giving children the chance to attain an excellent education,” Torpy said. “I would rather work at solving problems than avoiding them.”

For more information about Teach for America, visit www.teachforamerica.org.



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