From the Newsroom to the Classroom

Michelle Oyola, Journalism '07, left a career in journalism after discovering a passion for teaching.

Michelle OyolaST. LOUIS - When Michelle Oyola, Journalism '07, started her first job out of college at The Washington Missourian newspaper, she never expected her career path would lead her back to school. But after a yearlong stint as web and youth editor, during which time she mentored local high school students in journalism and worked with them to launch the country's first teen page at a nondaily newspaper, the teaching profession beckoned.

“I realized I love journalism, but I love this more,” Oyola said.

Oyola's goal was to teach English language arts to high school students in an underserved St. Louis school. So she applied to Teach For America (TFA), an organization that trains top college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years in low-income urban and rural public schools. According to TFA, in low-income communities, only 9 percent of students go on to graduate from college by the time they are 25. The organization's vision is that all children in the United States will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

Admission to TFA is highly selective; only 14 percent of applicants, or 11,000 out of more than 78,500, were admitted to the 2013-2014 corps. After Oyola was accepted to TFA, she underwent a rigorous six-week training program in Houston. From there, she was assigned to the St. Louis Construction Careers Center (CCC) charter high school.

At CCC, Oyola served as the English Language Arts department head, taught various classes in the subject, founded the drama club and sponsored a creative writer's group. She extended her two-year TFA commitment for an additional year at CCC, while also earning a master's degree in secondary curriculum and instruction at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

It was her experience teaching in the high school setting that, in turn, led her to want to teach younger students.

“What I saw, year after year, was that at least 20 percent of the incoming freshman students were reading at a third- or fourth-grade level,” she said. “They had such high career aspirations, and while not impossible to achieve, I knew how difficult it would be for them to catch up. It was clear that we need to address this problem at a younger age.”

When it opened in August 2011, Oyola joined South City Preparatory Academy (SCP), a free public charter school open to all St. Louis City residents, regardless of their neighborhood, socio-economic status, academic achievement, or ethnicity. At SCP, she found her perfect niche: teaching middle school communications arts. This year, Oyola also will lead a fifth grade “home advisory,” or homeroom class, serving as the personal connection to her students and their families.

When classes begin at SCP on Aug. 26, Oyola's first two weeks will be spent with these fifth-graders, getting them grounded in the school's environment, teaching them to be scholars and respect for one another.

Each home advisory class at SCP takes a name for itself, and Oyola's class will be known as “Webster” with the Gorlok serving as its adopted mascot.

“The thing about fifth-graders is that they are just so darn cute,” Oyola said. “I love my job; I love those kids.”