When Rowan Claypool graduated from Yale in the spring of 1980, he had a lingering feeling that his job was not done. In response, he journeyed back to his hometown of Louisville, KY—a vibrant city of a million on the banks of the Ohio River, nestled in the heartland of the country.
Louisville, like virtually all mid-sized cities in the 90s, was experiencing a “brain drain,” whereby its brightest high school and college graduates were leaving the city only to never return. “It was a critical and vexing community problem which was easy to see, but hard to imagine addressing,” Claypool says.
His first iteration, Bulldogs in the Bluegrass, placed Yalies in the Louisville area for a 10-week summer internship program. It was a massive hit and became the blueprint for Bulldogs Across America, a program that placed students in six cities throughout the country, including Cleveland, New Orleans, and Santa Fe. At its height, Bulldogs Across America was placing 10% of Yalies in one of these cities for the summer. In 2005, in recognition of this work, Claypool was awarded the prestigious Yale Medal.
Still, Bulldogs Across America did not lead to relocation to Louisville post-graduation. So, in 2002, Claypool ventured into the field of education by founding Teach Kentucky. The program sought to attract college graduates from all over the country, but especially Yale, to teach in Louisville’s metropolitan school system. Its strategy, described by Claypool, “leveraged our local public schools’ need for 500 new teachers a year as a platform to entice exceptional future teachers to migrate to an ‘unexpected destination.’”
The Teach Kentucky program integrates initial certification with a masters’ degree, 75% of which is funded by AmeriCorps. Participants also work full-time as teachers of record under provisional certification, receiving full-time compensation and benefits. Additionally, the program includes a six-week Summer Institute in which participants are mentored by veteran teachers in preparation for their first day in the classroom, and long-term advising by both past alumni and district staff.
At the heart of the program is the understanding that tackling the most critical educational challenges in the region cannot be done by one individual alone. Instead, it is a collective effort; one that graduates enter by joining Teach Kentucky. In the words of Claypool, “they became a community of educators.”
As Claypool describes it, people who went to universities like Yale were, figuratively, in one “wing” of the education building—one that, for the most part, suited and encouraged their strengths. Teach Kentucky, however, challenges them to teach in the opposite wing of that building—where students often lack the support needed to be successful at school.
Since its creation, Teach Kentucky has recruited more than 450 graduates from 380 different colleges and universities to teach in the greater Louisville area and 220 of them are still teaching there today.
As such, through the collective work of its dedicated teachers, Teach Kentucky has reshaped the perception of teaching in the Bluegrass state and has left a lasting impact on the community’s future generation.
As graduation season looms closer, Claypool advises Yalies to be open about their post-graduate opportunities. “Remember your first job is not your last job… You will do at least three things before you’re 30, so the first one out of college is just a start.” Instead, he encourages them to seek their own pathway, focusing on the experiences and change-making opportunities that their first job will provide them with.