Natalie Cleary wore many hats during her time at Grand Valley. From being president of Student Senate to working in the Office of Student Life to service work in the community, her well-rounded experiences prepared her for a new one upon graduation.
The political science major was accepted into a competitive AmeriCorps Teach for America program after trekking through an extensive application and interview process in 2012. The program selects recent college graduates, graduate students and professionals to teach for two years in low-income communities.
Cleary, a recipient of the Venderbush Student Leader Award and fellow at the Peter Cook Leadership Academy at the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, moved to Detroit upon graduation to start a comprehensive training program, and was assigned to Murphy Elementary-Middle School where she teaches seventh grade English.
“The training process was extremely intense,” Cleary said. “We called it ‘teacher boot camp’ because in six weeks we learned everything about being a teacher, from classroom management, to lesson planning, to literacy strategies.”
More than 48,000 students applied for the Teach for America program last year, said Stacey DeVrou, regional director of Michigan Recruitment for Teach for America, and about 14 percent were accepted. “When I met with Natalie, I immediately noticed her knack for listening, which is important when teaching,” DeVrou said. “Her strong leadership experience and academic achievements made her a great candidate for the program and will help her to become a great teacher.”
Cleary, a member of Omicron Delta Kappa National Honorary Leadership Fraternity and Phi Mu Fraternity, became interested in the program after taking a class about education and equality, where she learned how education can transform a community.
Cleary said the most challenging part of her job is working with students who already feel defeated in an academic setting. “I try to teach them that they are smart and hard work leads to success,” she said.
However, seeing her students work hard and grow is the most rewarding aspect of her job. She said in six months, she’s seen her students grow what is equivalent to three years in reading. “Allowing them to taste what success is like in an academic setting is extremely rewarding,” she said.
Cleary attributes her success to her mentors, leadership experience on the Student Senate and her multiple internships. “I’ve learned how to work with a diverse group of people and how to bring people together, which is a skill that transcends into every career field,” she said.
Cleary said she plans to pursue a master’s degree in education.