From the first day teaching summer school, Molly Zervoulis noticed one of her students had no interest in math. Alfredo, she said, was a distraction in class; he was unwilling to participate; and he got only four out of 25 answers right on the diagnostic test. But by the fifth day, he was participating more and even coming early in the morning for extra help in math.
“By day 10, he was a student leader, participating in discussions and finishing work early,” Zervoulis said. “By day 15, he got 100 percent on the test he had taken on day one. This proved to me that nothing is impossible if you just believe in your students.”
This small success story kick-started a new teaching venture for Zervoulis, who in July was accepted into Teach For America’s 2012 teaching corps.
Teach For America is the national corps of top recent college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools and become lifelong leaders in the pursuit of educational opportunity for all students.
Zervoulis, a 2007 graduate of Bayonne High School and 2011 graduate of Emerson College, joined Teach For America’s 23rd incoming corps, which numbers a record 5,800, and will be teaching in New York this fall.
Candidates highly qualified
Zervoulis was selected from a candidate pool of over 48,000, and is part of one of the most diverse and accomplished corps in Teach For America’s history. Ninety-eight members served as student body president at their alma mater. Twenty-three percent are graduate students or professionals from a wide range of backgrounds, including veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, financial analysts, nonprofit staffers, consultants, and participants in other AmeriCorps programs.
“I was on student council from fifth to 12th grade,” Zervoulis said. “I served as secretary and president at P.S. No. 14 [now Nicholas Oresko School], and as class representative and treasurer in high school. I was also the vice president of the Drama Club at BHS, and drum major of the marching band. My extracurricular activities in high school definitely set the tone for my future. Community outreach, working with kids, and volunteer work were some of the most crucial aspects of my high school experience, without which I may have never taken interest in an organization like TFA.”
“I knew it was going to be exciting and rigorous, but I never realized how transformational it was going to be.” – Molly Zervoulis
She said she applied to the New York City region in order to remain close to Bayonne.
“I wanted to be part of a nationwide movement aimed towards closing the achievement gap,” she said. “The students in this area are all able to succeed in school, and I hope to encourage my community and the communities surrounding it that this goal is in fact possible.”
She said some of her fellow alumni from Emerson college are current Teach for America Corps members or TFA alumni.
“Because of my background, passion, and personality, they all highly recommended that I apply,” she said. “Also, a representative from TFA gave a presentation at Emerson College my junior year of college, and I knew that I was going to apply once I graduated.”
Teaching in the Bronx
Zervoulis is among 75 teachers assigned to M.S. 331 in the Bronx this summer.
“I look at it more as an opportunity than a challenge, but I hope to reach my students in a way that changes their relationship with school forever,” she said. “I want my students to learn to love learning. I want them to leave the classroom everyday feeling smarter, more confident in themselves, and more college-ready. I want them to have 100 percent attendance and I want them to try their best every day. I know this goal is realistic for any student, because I have seen it happen.”
The experience for Zervoulis was different than she expected when she first got involved, but very rewarding and influential, she said.
“I knew it was going to be exciting and rigorous, but I never realized how transformational it was going to be,” she said. “The Teach for America staff did an amazing job of preparing us for our careers as teacher leaders in New York City. My advisor especially made a lasting impact on me, and my corps member group was crucial in helping me not just get through each day, but truly embrace every moment and work towards change.”
In the fall, she will become a founding teacher at New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities II in the Bronx.
“At New Visions, I will be a ninth grade special education math and English/language arts teacher, as well as a ninth grade class advisor. I definitely look forward to my next two years as a Corps Member,” she said. “The kind of teaching I hope to implement as a teacher is a mixture of the nurturing and inquisitive personality of my eighth grade teacher, Ms. Gonzalez; the zany and passionate personality of my environmental science and marine biology teacher, Mr. Tokar; and the devoted, caring and compassionate personality of my coach and mentor, Mrs. Casais. The kind of teaching that keeps students interested in class and encourages them to get on the path to earning a college degree.”