Perhaps it was inevitable that Mark Bell would become a teacher.
His mother, aunt and uncle all teach math at Cockrill Middle School in McKinney ISD. His grandmother and great-grandmother also were teachers.
As the 2007 McKinney North High School graduate entered his last year at Texas Christian University, he pondered his career path. At the time, he was managing editor of the TCU Daily Skiff, the university’s student newspaper. But instead of pursuing a career in the media, he applied to Teach for America and was accepted. The organization places top college graduates in teaching positions at low-income schools around the country.
“Teach for America’s big mission is that one day every child in the United States will have an excellent education regardless of race, family status or income,” said Bell, 22. “It’s something I agree with. No matter where a child is born they still should have the opportunity to have great teachers.”
TFA is highly selective and seeks applicants with leadership experience. Last year, just 11 percent of 48,000 applicants were accepted. Corps members must make a two-year commitment.
Bell graduated magna cum laude from TCU last year with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science. Following graduation, he spent the summer in training and teaching summer school classes in Mississippi.
He now teaches second grade at Donaldsonville Primary School in the Ascension Parish school district in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.
About 96 percent of the 560 children at the school are economically disadvantaged and receive free or reduced lunch assistance, and 97 percent are minorities. The school has been labeled low performing, and earned a letter grade of “F” from the Louisiana Department of Education in the 2010-11 school year. Only about 47 percent of students are performing at or above grade level.
Bell said seeing the challenges some of his students face reminds him of how fortunate he was to attend strong schools growing up. He entered McKinney ISD in kindergarten.
“I didn’t really realize I could have been born a few zip codes over and not have the opportunities I had in McKinney schools,” he said. “I want to work hard to give every kid the same opportunities I was afforded.”
Despite his family’s involvement in education, his mother Lori Bell was surprised when he decided to teach. She thinks he plays an important role as a male role model. “He loves seeing the difference he can make,” said Lori Bell, a math special education teacher. “He’s used to me talking about my students all the time and now he does the same.”
At McKinney North, Mark Bell worked as editor-in-chief of the yearbook. In his senior year of high school, he won the Distinguished Student Award. He also received the Sperry Family Endowment Scholarship from the McKinney Education Foundation.
Deanne Pratt was one of his favorite teachers. He took three years of math with her: Algebra II, pre-Calculus and AP Calculus. “Mark was always in classes with older students, yet he was always one of the most mature kids I had,” Pratt said.
Bell has found his job challenging, yet rewarding since beginning the school year in August. He serves on the school’s math committee. His passion is emphasizing the importance of reading. “I always loved to read growing up and that’s one of the things I’ve made a big focus of the class every day,” he said. “A lot of the kids are falling in love with reading, which is what I hoped would happen.” He has built up a class library and his students are performing well in a school reading competition. He worked with one boy to move his reading grades of C’s and D’s to B’s.
“I’ve tried to get my students to take responsibility for their own education,” he said.
Bell said he will likely pursue graduate school after completing his two-year commitment. For more information on TFA, go to teachforamerica.org.
Written by Katherine Leal Unmuth and distributed by MISD.