Rominna Villaseñor is the Coordinator of Alumni Affairs with Teach for America in Chicago. Recently I talked with Rominna about her work with Teach for America, working with IMAN in preparation for Takin’ It to the Streets, and other projects.
DG: How long have you been involved with Teach for America?
RV: For almost one year. Being a part of this organization is a blessing because I am working with individuals who are empowered to effect systematic change to close the achievement gap.
DG: What are some recent initiatives with Teach for America in Chicago?
RV: I work with the Alumni Affairs team in our region, and one of the pieces that I directly coordinate is our engagement initiatives. Our alumni here in Chicago are heavily involved in giving back to Teach For America.
DG: What are you doing with Takin’ It to the Streets, on June 19th?
RV: I’ll be working with the Program Team. We have a great team of volunteers that’s excited about the event. I have poured countless hours in making sure our programming is tight and dynamic, and to make sure that the event will run as smoothly as possible.
DG: Who are some of the coordinators with whom you’re working?
RV: I’m really excited to work with Sister Aidah Muhammad, who stage managed for the “New York – IMAN at the Apollo” show; Shayna Silverstein, who was recommended by the Event Coordinator for Streets; and Asad Jafri, who is the Director of Arts and Culture at IMAN. Asad is also the Festival Director for Streets.
DG: What do you find interesting about working on Takin’ It to the Streets, especially in a city like Chicago?
RV: I’m always humbled when I meet people from different backgrounds, and to work with them on projects that are fueled by social justice issues. I recognize that Chicago is a truly diverse city, but we still have a long way to go to blur the divides amongst ourselves. I see this as an opportunity to bridge the gaps through inspiring, collaborative work.
DG: What are some other Teach for America initiatives that you’ve been involved with?
RV: We’re in the middle of strategic planning here at Teach For America, and I feel really inspired to work with such fueled, passionate, and hard-working group of people. We’re ending our fiscal year in September and I am excited for next year’s new initiatives that will be launched.
There was an organization-wide re-evaluation of core values; the national team upper management met with regional teams to collect feedback regarding our core values. The change will affect the way we approach our work for next year. It is our hope to include more community partnerships to fully maximize the resources that are needed to narrow the achievement gap.
DG: Earlier you mentioned work you’ve been doing with Teach For America’s Alumni Affairs. What are some developments with that?
RV: Since I work with the Alumni Affairs team, I am provided the opportunity to interact with a base of individuals stretching all the way to alumni who entered the corps in 1990. It’s easy to access the profiles of our more seasoned alumni through online search engines: Tim Daly with The New Teacher Project, Michelle Rhee as the DC Chancellor, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin with KIPP etc., but I would like to highlight a couple of stories that speak volumes about our educational movement here in Chicago.
DG: What are some examples of Teach For America alumni who have been contributing to Teach For America recently?
RV: Richard Pechter (Newark, ’00) challenged our alumni that if 10,000 of them were to donate, he will give $50,000 to Teach For America. Two of our alumni here in Chicago went above and beyond; upon hearing the challenge, they not only supported one of our fundraising events, but they also donated extra to qualify for this challenge. They have also been active volunteers for Teach For America; they offer their classrooms so that our incoming corps members can observe and learn from experienced teachers. Another inspiring story was the overwhelming support from our alumni base when Teach For America was applying for Federal Funding.
DG: How did the alumni help with that initiative?
RV: On one day alone, more than 100 of our alumni here in Chicago reached out to their representatives to ask their support in this initiative. This shows even as corps members end their 2-year commitment, they are still a part of this important mission to close the achievement gap. I also get the unique opportunity to visit classrooms that are alumni-led; I am reminded every day that the issues we face in Chicago are solvable through the work of our corps.
Another aspect of my work that is incredibly inspiring is our political leadership initiative.
DG: How are things developing with that political leadership initiative?
RV: We re-evaluated our strategies in preparation for this coming fiscal year and I’m thrilled about how we’re launching a strategic effort to partner with organizations in the community to provide more spaces to have important conversations about students. It is our hope that through discussions, we will be able to collaborate with our partners in finding ways to best support students.
Takin’ It to the Streets happens in Marquette Park on Saturday, June 18 (9 a.m.-9 p.m.). This event, which is free and open to the public, will include speeches by people such as Imam Qasim Ahmed, Dr. Aminah Beverly McCloud, Imam Suhaib Webb, and Jane Ramsey; performances by artists such as Tinariwen, Funkadesi, and Mos Def; and other activities.
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