Teach For America South Carolina 2015
First-Grade Teacher, Mark Twain Elementary School
In 2021, Katie Frakes taught first graders with two broken bones in her back. She was in a car accident not far from where she lives in Kirkland, Washington. Frakes somehow escaped spinal cord surgery, but she lived in a back brace for four months.
Only five weeks after the accident, Frakes walked slowly into her classroom again – joyfully welcomed back by a throng of hugging first graders.
“I just missed the kids so badly,” she confessed. “The doctors wanted me to rest for another six to eight weeks, but I needed to be with my class more than I needed to lie on a couch.”
The dedication is genuine. Frakes always wanted to teach. In pursuit of that dream, she graduated magna cum laude from Washington State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, then started teaching.
She felt something very wrong.
“I was shocked to find out that so much of school funding came from property taxes,” said Frakes. “That meant some schools had a lot of resources, and some schools didn’t. At my Title 1 school, teachers received about $100 to spend on classroom supplies each year. Other districts, not far away, gave teachers close to $250.”
Frakes found a way to work at the intersection of education and equity by applying to Teach For America. In 2015, she was placed by Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) to teach kindergarten at Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood.
“TFASC reshaped the way I look at education,” said Frakes. “I went to school studying to be a teacher. But I know that I wouldn’t be nearly as impactful today without TFASC. It changed everything.”
TFASC taught her to put relationships at the center of her educational philosophy.
“Education is relationship-based,” she said. “Learning starts with the partnerships you establish with families and kids. That will lead to success in and out of the classroom.”
Frakes felt so deeply committed to Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood that she stayed in the classroom for another year beyond her initial two-year commitment. Then, in 2018, she relocated to Washington to be closer to her family and friends where she grew up.
TFASC provided opportunities to Frakes even when she was in Washington. She earned her master’s degree in education through a TFASC partnership with Johns Hopkins University.
“When I interviewed for jobs in Washington, everyone mentioned that credential,” said Frakes.
Today, the lessons from TFASC staff members and educators are never far from her.
“In my current classroom, I have students from more than 10 countries – China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Russia, and others,” said Frakes. “I can make every student feel more comfortable, more represented, and more open to learning by having inclusive conversations that I learned from TFASC’s training.”
“I know that every single teacher can make a difference in the fate of a child,” she concluded.