Teach For America South Carolina 2019
First-Grade Teacher, Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood
As an undergraduate student at Auburn University, Haley Kantor dreamed of a job in education that would “let me do a little more” for students, herself, and the world at large.
She found that job in 2019, right out of college, with Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC). Kantor was placed by TFASC to teach first grade at Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood, a groundbreaking public-private not-for-profit partnership school between the Charleston County School District and private contributors.
“We’re dedicated to developing partnerships with families and communities,” she said. “Our mission is to help students think deeply, live zestfully, act gratefully, care empathetically, work with grit, and lead with confidence and humility.”
Kantor instructs her six- and seven-year-olds, 18 of them in all, in the ‘three Rs’ plus phonics, social studies, and more. She values the privilege of starting a career in education at her pioneering school.
Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood opened as Charleston’s first public-private model in 2014. Educators rehabbed an abandoned middle school and reformed their approach to education for a traditional public elementary school.
Any student living in the defined geography of the district can attend a school that is funded jointly by the Charleston County School District and private contributors. Donors invest in the Meeting Street network of four schools because they believe in its vision.
“Our partnership allows students here to receive the same opportunities and resources as those who live in areas with a higher property tax base,” explained Kantor.
“We offer an extended school day, extended school year, three times the number of professional development days for teachers, and student resources like a school uniform and a daily breakfast, snack, and lunch. Plus, there is affordable healthcare.”
The public-private model supports a second teacher in every classroom, a PK3 (three-year-old and up) program, and an expansive menu of academic, behavioral, and medical interventions. Also, a partnership with the Lowcountry Food Bank, called BackPack Buddies, sends home a free bag of snacks to select students’ families every weekend.
“It is important to me that my work advances educational equity, making the best learning possible for students no matter where they live or their economic circumstances,” said Kantor.
She added, “My moral priorities aligned with those of TFASC, and I found myself surrounded by people with those same priorities and that same drive.”
TFASC provided her with a network of like-minded teachers she dreamed about at Auburn. “I have a community in Charleston,” she said. “My closest friends are from TFASC. We trained together.”
Kantor especially values TFASC’s personal support.
“We emphasize care for our mental health and well-being,” she said. “In balancing teaching, my brain sometimes feels scattered in 99 places. Life is crazy, and our world is being blown in all directions. The TFASC team – this community of educators – always helps me find a way to stay grounded.”
“My voice and concerns are always heard by the TFASC team. That helps me keep my teaching mindset focused where it should be – on students’ potential,” concluded Kantor. “I try to inspire my students to believe they can conquer whatever they run into.”