For Jeff Temple, the Wal-Mart in Helena, Ark., is about the most important place in town. It's where he picks up most of the materials for experiments in his high school science classes. And it's where he is most likely to run into students and their parents.
"Usually they find me rummaging around for something to blow up," he says. Mr. Temple is one of 33 Teach for America recruits in the Mississippi Delta region. They commit for two years, but some stay longer. They're meeting a need in an area where qualified teachers are in short supply.
At Central High School in West Helena, Teach for America recruits teach science and math, tough jobs to fill in poor rural schools. "Teach for America has been a real boost to us. These kids have energy, innovation, and a different way of looking at things. They're really good at interdisciplinary things," says Stephanie Graznak, a speech and theater teacher at Central High School in West Helena.
Central High's principal, Alfred Billingsley, says he appreciates the fact that Teach for America teachers spend a lot of time with students after school, including phone calls late at night and on weekends. "Temple is always on campus exploding things, and they love it. He's got them reading a lot of books," he says.
Hands-on experiments are a big part of his science classes. Sometimes, he can get grants to pay for materials. More often, he relies on simple objects, such as making cameras out of coffee cans.
"I'm sharing the passion of my life with these kids, they're going to get excited," he says. "Even if they don't like to read or can't read, they can describe what is going on verbally. Physics is looking at something and figuring out how it makes sense," says Temple.
Down the hall, Teach for America's Alan Giuliani is preparing a senior calculus class for a test with "dramatic readings" on critical points in a function. "I love math," he says. "If you can get the beauty of the way they choose words for a theorem, if you can appreciate something as abstract as that, it can be thrilling."