JuDonne Hemingway grew up on Chicago's South Side and attended Chicago Public Schools from kindergarten through high school. With the support of family members who placed a high value on education - as well as some great teachers - she excelled, attending magnet schools and going onto college.
Some of her friends, though, did not achieve the same success. She saw many of them fall through the cracks of a challenged school system. Many of her peers dropped out after 8th grade, and most who made it to high school dropped out during their freshman year.
Seeing the discrepancies between her experience and those of her fellow CPS students is largely what motivated her - after graduating college, pursuing a career in corporate communications and earning a master's degree - to teach. She wanted do something that would make an impact for future generations of students who, like her, grew up in a school system where the pathways to success were narrow and the opportunities to fail too plentiful.
She joined Teach For America in 2011 and was recruited by TFA to join its Indianapolis teaching corps. She teaches high school English at Fall Creek Academy, a charter school.
Hemingway credits The Mind Trust, which brought Teach For America to Indianapolis in 2007 to engage talented college graduates in two-year teaching assignments in urban schools, for making her teaching experience in Indianapolis possible. Through TFA, Hemingway has experienced what she believes is her true calling - making an everyday difference on the lives of students with backgrounds similar to hers.
"It's exciting and empowering to be part of a national movement to transform public education through my work with Teach For America," Hemingway said. "Every day I'm rewarded by the work I do to create better results for kids in Indianapolis. I am thankful to The Mind Trust for making that possible."
Create better results she has. This year Hemingway's students increased their reading levels by an average of two years in less than a year's time. Hemingway also makes it a priority to give her students opportunities to build character.
"Success isn't sustainable without integrity," Hemingway said. "My greatest hope is that my students in Indianapolis leave my class better readers and writers, but also more informed and responsible citizens who can continue to grow and improve our communities."