Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Wheaton seniors to join teacher service corps

Wheaton seniors Sarah Mielbye and Kristine Vilagie have been chosen to participate in Teach for America (TFA), a select corps of college graduates who commit to teaching for two years in low-income communities across the nation.

Two Wheaton student leaders have been chosen to participate in Teach for America (TFA), a select corps of college graduates who commit to teaching for two years in low-income communities across the nation.

Sarah Mielbye '09 of Attleboro will teach in Connecticut, while Kristine Vilagie '09 of Carver will head to Phoenix, Arizona. Both will teach in elementary schools.

Founded in 1990 by a new college graduate, Teach for America strives to address educational inequality by recruiting and training "a diverse group of talented recent college graduates who possess the leadership skills needed to make a real impact in the short and long term," according to the organization's Web site.

The Wheaton students were selected through a rigorous admissions process that involved an application and essay, multiple interviews and a mock teaching demonstration by each candidate. Selection is highly competitive: The 2008 TFA corps comprises 3,700 teachers selected from nearly 25,000 college seniors and recent graduates.

Kristine Vilagie '09A political science major and studio art minor, Vilagie learned the value of community service in her hometown of Carver, a cranberry farming town.

"I was raised with the understanding that you should share your knowledge and time with those who need it," Vilagie says. "Small things can make a big difference."

Vilagie has volunteered in Pembroke, Mass., classrooms and for Handi-Kids, a Bridgewater organization that offers horseback riding and other recreation for children with disabilities. 

She practices the same helping philosophy at Wheaton, where she is a head resident, an admissions tour guide, and a member of the SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) Student Action Committee. Last summer, Vilagie worked in the college's Office of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility (SSSR), helping to plan the Season of Service, a fall program that attempts to engage every new Wheaton student in a volunteer service project.

Sarah Mielbye '09An international relations major with a minor in development studies, Sarah Mielbye discovered "a renewed interest in the importance of education" after studying in Uganda for a semester. During the summer of 2008, she interned with Service Nation, a campaign to encourage more Americans to devote time to service. Along with Christopher DiFranco '10, Mielbye helped plan a September 11 Service Nation Summit in New York City, which included a presidential candidates' forum. The experience, she says, "ignited a passion for service and made me understand its greater potential for change." Click here to view a video about the students' involvement with Service Nation.

On campus, Mielbye is a standout leader. She has interned for the Office of SSSR and served on the AIDS Prevention and Education Team. As a sophomore, she was editor in chief of the Wheaton Wire student newspaper, and she now serves as a training adviser for the paper. She conducts interviews for the Office of Admission, sings with the Whims and Voices United to Jam, and promotes giving to Wheaton as the senior class gift co-chair for the Annual Fund.

Before taking to the classroom, the new TFA members will get to observe experienced teachers and participate in a five-week summer training institute.

"They describe the training as ‘teacher boot camp,'" says Vilagie. "We will learn lesson planning, classroom management skills, practical applications and just about everything else they can fit into five weeks."

Teach for America seeks to select individuals who will continue to work toward educational equality—through policy change, for instance—long after they complete their two years of service. For now, both Wheaton students look forward to working directly with children and expanding their opportunities to achieve. 

"I know it's going to be challenging," says Mielbye. "The education gap is enormous, and the expectations of the program high; but I really can't wait to take it on. It takes a really idealistic person to do this, and I think that's a good thing. You have to be positive and persistent, and that's what I hope to contribute."