Ponte Vedra High School alumna Ali Fehling, 24, will soon start teaching at Westside High School in Jacksonville as a member of Teach For America, an organization that enlists individuals to become teachers in low-income communities.
The stated goal of TFA, according to its website, is to "enlist, develop and mobilize" as many of America's future leaders to "grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence." After two years, teachers trained by TFA (called "corps members") can choose to remain in the classroom or pursue another endeavor.
"I would say, my whole life I had thought about teaching, and I have always thought about the impact a teacher could have on a student's life," Fehling said. "That [teaching] was something I thought I would really like to do."
Fehling realized she wanted to join TFA after attending a leadership conference at Clemson University. The 24-year-old PVHS graduate felt moved by a speech delivered by a Teach For America representative on the lack of resources and education offered to students in low-income communities.
"I was really taken aback," she said. "I grew up in Ponte Vedra and went to amazing schools in St. Johns County and always took that for granted and never really realized how special that was, how great of an education I got."
Fehling revealed she "just couldn't get out of her head" the fact that some children do not have access to the same education as those living in affluent areas.
"That was something I felt I could not ignore," she added. "And something I wanted to be a part of because regardless of how I grew up, I saw the influence a teacher could have and the influence a good school environment could have...so my drive is just being able to be a small part in the fight to help students get the education they deserve."
After completing a comprehensive training program, TFA placed Fehling at Westside High School in Jacksonville where she will start Aug. 14, the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.
“I'm excited to meet the community and see a part of Jacksonville I didn't grow up in and meet those students that live there and call that place home," she noted.
Fehling addressed the possibility of teaching with a lack of resources by taking advantage of outside opportunities and financial donations. For Fehling, the donations came through an online fundraiser.
"One thing that has been so cool that I've seen already is how people rally around education when you ask [for help]," Fehling said. "So, I put up a Facebook post. It was kind of like a GoFundMe page, and it was to raise money for my classroom…because we don't always get all the resources that we want."
Fehling raised over $1,000 through her fundraising efforts on social media.
Additionally, she took advantage of the Aug. 4 teacher market in which donors offered supplies and school materials for free to Duval County teachers.
Despite the perceived danger of working in a struggling, low-income community, Fehling revealed that she is not afraid of the challenge.
"There's really nothing to be scared of," she said. "I think anywhere you go in life no matter what neighborhood you're in, there are certain precautions to take, of course, but overall that's not even a thought that crosses my mind."
Fehling suggested that there's "so much more to [low-income] communities and neighborhoods" than crime statistics, and that she can develop a harmonious partnership with locals by making connections and building relationships.