Internationally-educated student returns to teach in rural Idaho
Ana Earl, Teach For America (TFA) Corps Member and first-year Social Studies Teacher, at Forge International School moved around quite a bit in her youth — living in not just Idaho — but in other countries such as Azerbaijan and England. She said it was hard being the new kid in school, but she learned lessons in resiliency and social skills — while also diversifying her education attending charter schools, going to schools with models focusing on project-based learning (such as Anser Charter School), and attending many international schools for her International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma.
Because of these diverse education experiences, Earl ultimately went to college and graduated with a degree in International Development Studies with a minor in Social Entrepreneurship and Geography from McGill University in Montreal. After college, Earl volunteered to teach English and other life skill classes at a refugee camp in Greece because she felt pulled towards improving education for others.
“I’ve always deeply believed in the power of education and how it can give people choices. While I was there, [the refugee camp] it started to build where I was like, ‘I really believe in education, but it doesn’t feel right that I’m half-way across the world, when I’m from the United States and our school system isn’t harnessing the power of education for people equally. So why would I go to Greece, when I can go up the road from my hometown and work for education equality there?’” Earl said.
Because of this instinctive calling of helping students gain access to a quality education, Earl returned to Idaho and joined TFA. Teach For America recruits outstanding leaders to become teachers. Corps members commit to teaching for two years in a low-income community, where they’re employed by local schools and confront both the challenges and joys of expanding opportunities for students.
“I actively believe in their model that every child deserves access to an education. I felt like that really lined up to my values. TFA has really opened my mind to my next steps as to what is my working theory of educational access in America, and what you actually do about it — that might be in the classroom or beyond the classroom,” Earl said. “It might be an admin in a school or a school district — what does that look like and where do I go next? And where are people working to make the most change?”
Through TFA, she found her position at Forge that fit her values and skill set perfectly. Not just because of her well-versed education journey and passion to serve students, but because of her experience with the IB model — and her connection with Executive Director of Forge, Andy Johnson.
Earl may have attended schools outside of the U.S., but she obtained her IB diploma through Riverstone International School in Boise. There, Johnson and Earl crossed paths. At the time, Johnson was the principal at the school and Earl set up a meeting with him before enrolling to take charge of her education.
“She came prepared with a list of questions for me about Riverstone,” Johnson said. “We had this really wide-ranging talk all about how Riverstone could best meet her needs coming back from England, so she could graduate with her IB diploma. I was kind of blown away by that. I gave her some advice and she showed up a year later.”
Geography was the last class Earl needed to complete her IB diploma. Since Riverstone didn’t offer the course, Johnson decided to teach Earl the subject one-on-one in his office, using a portable whiteboard. In that class, Johnson became Earl’s mentor watching her IB education grow within the projects she completed, and offering guidance for college. Earl said this class with Johnson solidified her love for IB education, especially through her class project mapping out services for homeless people in Boise.
“That type of independence and choice in what you’re learning is really cool. That was the coolest thing I did,” Earl said.
Johnson said it was a “no-brainer;” she was the right fit for the position, and he said the school’s whole hiring group was unanimous with endorsing Earl. He said it’s been incredibly rewarding to see someone be inspired to teach, and serve a school with high need students, through TFA. He said she “dove right into that,” because she is a strong learner and highly motivated.
While teaching at Forge, Earl is required to have a coach to support her in being the best teacher she can be, and Megan Furois filled the role. She conducts monthly observations and supports Earl with goal setting. She said during the day, kids are constantly collaborating and learning together in Earl’s classroom, while also staying on task.
“Ana, as a first-year teacher, the amount of growth she has shown is super-rewarding as a coach,” Furois said.
Earl said she strongly believes in the mission at Forge. She said the IB model is very enriching and rigorous, that educates the whole child, while also providing the student with critical thinking skills they will need in life.
Johnson said being an IB school, it’s vital to have strong ambassadors in the program, and Earl is just that.
“We are working hard to establish IB in a part of Idaho that didn’t have it. She can talk about a variety of subjects, and she rose to the challenge,” Johnson said. “Getting people like Ana in the building who knows it [the IB education model] is challenging…”
Earl jumped right into her role as a middle school social studies teacher, but she is also involved in supporting the broader school community. She volunteered to host Student Council with another teacher, and runs alongside the cross-country team at track meets to support the kids. Furois said Earl is not only deeply involved with the school but is also a team player. On a whim, Earl is willing to help teachers and staff at the school when needed, and whenever possible.
“She could have done a number of things, but she picked Teach For America and came back and she wanted to give back to Idaho kids. I check in on her every time I’m at Forge and swing by her classroom to see how she’s doing. She is always doing a good job,” Johnson said. “I think it’s incredible, that out of everything — she picked teaching. And teaching during COVID — I mean she really didn’t need to do that. Part of the reason that school is doing so well is because she’s there.”
“I’ve learned that kids need me, and they like me, because I love them. When you show kids that you care — I think that’s all that matters. They don’t care that I’m from Boise, they don’t care that I went to college in Canada. And that’s okay — they shouldn’t care,” Earl said. “I care about what they are learning, and I care about them as people. I think, that, is way more powerful than where you’re from.”
Without TFA, Earl would have had a challenging time getting into the classroom as a teacher. And even though she didn’t graduate from college with an education degree, Johnson said he is extremely proud of Earl and her dedication to Idaho students. He said she has an inspiring story for other people who might want to go into teaching.
Before getting into education Johnson served overseas in the United States Army as an officer. He said when he looks at resumes to fill teaching positions, he looks for candidates who have varied experiences at mission-driven organizations such as summer camps, the Peace Corps, Teach For America, the military, etc. Specifically, for Forge’s IB model he looks for candidates who love to read, know a second language, and who have studied or worked abroad.
“I wouldn’t hire someone unless they had the right content area or background where I knew they could do this,” Johnson said.
“If you’re interested in teaching at a charter school, call some charter school principals of schools you’d be interested in and see if they would just meet with you to talk about teaching. Or meet with teacher friends and look at programs like TFA. But, I don’t think people should be afraid to reach out,” Johnson said. “I love to meet people like that, because there are people all over the Treasure Valley that I think would be great teachers who have probably thought about teaching. But they don’t have a teaching certificate and they don’t know where to start.”
Forge International School is a Bluum partner school and has received grant support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and from Idaho’s Communities of Excellence federal Charter Schools Program grant.
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