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Viemont High, Yale grad joins Teach for America

Political science major wanted to perform public service before entering the workforce.

First Published Aug 23 2012 10:17 am • Last Updated Nov 30 2012 11:33 pm

From Viewmont High School to Yale to Colorado Springs, Kyle Cooper was a motivated student and is now a motivated teacher.

Cooper was selected from a pool of more than 48,000 applicants to become a member of the Teach for America corps and is one of 10,000 teaching in high school this school year.

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"More than 16 million children are growing up below the poverty line, and unless things change, only 8 percent of them will get through college by the time they’re 24," said Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach for America. "Given the progress we’re seeing in schools and districts across the country, we know this is a solvable problem. I’m so inspired by the individuals in our large and diverse corps who have chosen to join the effort to tackle it. With hard work, dedication, and the partnership of their schools and communities, they are poised to make a real difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students while gaining the perspective and experience necessary for a lifetime of educational leadership and advocacy."

Cooper, a 2008 graduate of Viewmont High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale in 2012. He is currently teaching underserved students in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"From a very young age, my parents and leaders in church and school impressed upon me an obligation to be engaged in public service," said Cooper, whose mother is a former junior high teacher and current junior high vice principal.

Cooper has deferred a job working as a consultant for the federal government in Washington, D.C., to teach students for two years with Teach for America.

"I believe that education is our most important long-term domestic policy issue. Some children simply aren’t given the opportunities every child deserves. This affects all of us, too. The consulting company McKinsey finds that the persistence of the achievement gap imposes economic costs that amount to a permanent recession. I hope to be a part of the solution to this problem," Cooper said.

He began teaching this summer. Originally, he was hired to teach math, but then was switched to physicl and earth science for sophomores and molecular biology for seniors. The switch was a challenge that Cooper embraced.

"The learning curve for any new teacher is incredibly steep, and I anticipate that teaching this fall will be particularly challenging. It’s also the nature of this commitment, though, that some of the greatest challenges to come will be unanticipated. I’m confident that I have the support to handle these kinds of surprise challenges — like my switch from math to science — and I think that it’s in dealing with them that I can become a more dynamic teacher for my students" he said.

Cooper wants to live a life engaged in public service.

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"I think I will emerge from my time teaching more like the kind of person I want to be: more thoughtful, disciplined and kind-hearted. I hope that this experience will help me carry the same urgency I feel about education to other issues that are important to me. I am also excited that this experience will better prepare me for other professional pursuits," he said.

Cooper had three teachers at Viewmont High School and Centerville Junior High that influenced his life. Weston Clark, Jenette Jenkins and Paul Baniewicz all taught different subjects and had different teaching styles, but according to Cooper, they had one thing in common: they took active steps to relate what they were teaching to their student’s lives and to make a connection. Cooper hopes to emulate those teachers as he begins teaching high school.

Weston Clark, Cooper’s English teacher, debate coach and adviser at Viewmont High School, has a great respect for his former student. "He has the rest of his life to pursue the career he has chosen, and Teach for America will be an amazing experience. I have huge hopes for Kyle. He knew what he wanted early in life, and he made it happen. I am extraordinarily proud to make an impact of in his life," Clark said.

Cooper hopes to make a similar impact on the students he teaches.

"It’s been obvious to me since I taught students this summer that I should be most focused on having students leave my class with bolstered intellectual curiosity, grit and problem-solving skills. These traits are durable and change life trajectories. Obviously, I’m also focused on goals that are more measurable and more immediate: I will be dissatisfied if my students don’t see dramatic performance on their standardized tests," Cooper said.


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