Mona Shield Payne
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Matthew Angelo begins his lesson on Elie Wiesel's novel "Night" with a primer on the Holocaust.
After going over terms such as antisemitism, concentration camp and genocide, the second-year English teacher at Robison Middle School has several of his students stand.
One by one, they recite from a piece of paper a brief oral history of six of the more than 6 million Holocaust victims who died during World War II.
These were teenagers with names like Issac and Irene, not much older than Angelo's eighth graders. As the students heard their personal stories, the lesson came alive.
"These are people," Angelo said. "They were no different than you and I."
School Board member Deanna Wright, who was guest-teaching the class on Tuesday, nodded in agreement.
"They're kids, just like you and your brothers and sisters," she said.
Over the next three weeks, the 30 students in Angelo's class will pore over Wiesel's first-person account as a Holocaust survivor, studying and analyzing the prose and historical context. By the end of the book, Holocaust survivors living in Las Vegas will visit Angelo's class, sharing with students their own stories of survival and recovery.
It's one of several lessons being taught this week by Teach for America teachers and community partners as part of Teach for America Week.
Teach for America is a national nonprofit organization that recruits and trains recent graduates from top colleges to teach in at-risk schools for at least two years.
Currently, Las Vegas has 170 Teach for America corps members and 160 alumni in the community. Earlier this month, the Clark County School Board unanimously approved hiring 150 more such teachers for next school year.
More than a dozen local politicians, business and community leaders are participating in the annual Teach for America Week, which is taking place in 46 Teach for America regions across the nation.
Guest-teachers this year include Reps. Joe Heck, Steven Horsford and Dina Titus, as well as Mayor Carolyn Goodman. Leaders from the Regional Transportation Commission, Boyd Gaming, Bank of America, the Smith Center and others also participated
The goal of the event is two-fold: To expose community leaders to the work of Teach for America corps members and for students from low-income families to learn from prominent leaders in Las Vegas.
The two learn from each other, said Victor Wakefield, the executive director of the Las Vegas chapter of Teach for America. In the end, that interaction between the community leader and student could shape policymakers' decisions involving education, he said.
"We believe it takes a community energy to change education," Wakefield said. "It's a powerful idea that political leaders and community activists team up with our teachers and plan a lesson for students. This is about building energy and commitment around ending the equity gap (in education)."
For Wright, her visit to a classroom led by a Teach for America corps member reaffirmed her support for the nonprofit organization. Earlier this month, Wright and her fellow School Board members approved $300,000 in funding to help train 150 new Teach for America teachers.
"It's so important as a trustee to be in the classroom," said Wright, who participated in the Teach for America Week last year. "It gives us a good perspective for when we're up at the dais (of the School Board meeting)."
Wright said she's found Teach for America teachers to be highly engaged and motivated. Wright lamented the budget cuts, which she said have hurt support for teacher development.
Teach for America spends about $20,000 per year to train each of its teachers. Corps members' training includes a five-week summer institute, multiple observations and yearlong professional development, including some Saturday preparation.
"Teach for America does what I wish we could do for all of our teachers," Wright said. "We try, but we just don't have the funding available at the moment. We do our darndest."