Teach For America Recognizes Houston Educator, Parisa Behzadi, with 2016 Alumni Award For Excellence in Teaching

Behzadi, a Local Elementary School Educator, Selected Among 11,000 Classroom Teachers


Houston, May 19, 2016—Teach For America announced nine recipients of its Alumni Awards for Excellence in Teaching, which honor alumni who are transforming students’ lives through continued and extraordinary classroom leadership. Parisa Behzadi, who teaches English as a Second Language special education to elementary students at the New Neighbor campus of the Neighborhood School Centers, Inc., was among those recognized.  Most of Behzadi’s students are first-year refugees who have come recently to the United States. Behzadi is known for her collaborative approach and ability to bring together numerous agencies and organizations – ranging from the City of Houston to community centers and credit unions; to better connect her students with opportunities.

“We honor the tremendous progress, impact, and leadership that our 2016 Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching recipients are exhibiting in their classrooms and communities everyday” said Houstonian Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach For America and a Phoenix Corps ’98 alumna. “These recipients all have unique classroom and community approaches, and are reflective of the profound impact and diversity of thought we see in our network of more than 50,000 corps members and alumni impacting students’ lives inside and outside the classroom. These recipients serve as a model and source of inspiration and represent a small sample of teachers proving what is possible when we provide students with the opportunities, supports, and guidance to succeed.”

Alumni Awards for Excellence in Teaching recipients were selected from among the more than 11,000 Teach For America alumni serving as classroom teachers.  The applicants for the Alumni Awards for Excellence in Teaching went through three rigorous rounds of review, and nine recipients were chosen by a diverse selection committee comprised of teachers, principals, instructional coaches, university faculty, and Teach For America staff members. The selection committee considered numerous criteria in selecting awardees, including a demonstrated impact on the educational outcomes of their students, a commitment to the schools and communities in which they teach, an unwavering belief in the potential for all students to succeed, a long-term commitment to teaching as a way to combat educational inequity, and an embodiment of Teach For America’s core values.

Alumni Awards recipients will receive a monetary prize and participate in a year-long ambassadorship which includes professional learning and leadership experiences. The Teach For America Alumni Awards for Excellence in Teaching are generously underwritten by the Seedlings Foundation, with the vision of recognizing and learning from our alumni teachers.

Renee Fairchild, Greater New Orleans – Louisiana Delta ‘14

Special Education Teacher, Case Manager, Collegiate Academies, Sci Academy

“When scholars leave the classroom, my deepest hope is that they have developed the skills they need to perform at their highest level of independence while contributing positively to their  community.”

Renee Fairchild teaches at Sci Academy in New Orleans where she leads a transformative classroom for students with severe to moderate/mild disabilities. Many of her students are eligible to remain in school until they are 22.  Renee's classroom is highly differentiated. Every student has a different learning plan and learning goals, and each student has an individual internship targeted towards his or her goals. Renee is the founder of Opportunities Academy, a program in her school that works with special education students who have already graduated from high school but need additional supports and skills to be successful independently in their communities. Renee is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University.


2016 Alumni Awards for Excellence in Teaching Recipients:

Parisa Behzadi, Houston ’12

K-5th Grade, Self-contained ESL Special Education Teacher, New Neighbor Campus, Neighborhood Centers Inc. – Baker-Ripley and New Neighbor, Houston, TX

Parisa Behazadi is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Houston, Texas. She currently teaches kindergarten through 5th grade English Language Learners in a self-contained setting, the majority of whom are first-year refugees from different native countries with many different home languages.  In an effort to build access and bring new opportunities for her students, Ms. Behzadi has partnered with a number of organizations including Promise Credit Union, Southwest Senior Citizens, Houston Fire Department, Baker–Ripley Community Center, and the City of Houston; all in the 2015-16 school year. As the Newcomer Academy ESL Director at Fondren Middle School, her placement school where she taught for 3 years, Ms. Behzadi reorganized the ESL department to increase the number of students exiting the Newcomer ESL program within one year. Parisa is a graduate of the University of Michigan and received her Masters of Education from the University of St. Thomas. 

Geoff Brown, Mississippi ‘08

8th Grade Humanities Teacher, Afya Public Charter School, Baltimore, MD

Geoff Brown Teaches Humanities to 8th graders at Afya Public Charter School, in Baltimore, MD.   Mr. Brown serves as the team lead for 8th grade and Debate Coach with the Baltimore Urban Debate League. He also helped create student government and mentors corps members through the Teach For America - Baltimore LEAD program.  Mr. Brown's work with his scholars fuels him and allows him to creatively connect the unrest before the American Revolution to the protests in the Baltimore streets in 2015. Before moving to Baltimore, Geoff taught 8th grade English Language Arts and was the Community Outreach Director at his placement school, Shelby Middle School, in Shelby, MS. Geoff is a graduate of George Washington University.  

Jennifer Cotennec Christensen, Kansas City '11

Kindergarten Teacher, Prodeo Academy Charter School, Minneapolis, MN

Jennifer Christensen teaches Kindergarten in Minneapolis at Prodeo Academy Charter School. Ms. Christensen spearheads Black History Month at her school, created an Equity & Diversity team on her staff, and organized a team to collect and distribute school supplies through the Backpack Buddies Project. Jennifer also taught Kindergarten at her placement school in Kansas City, Melcher Elementary. Jennifer is a graduate of the Lafayette College, and she received her M.Ed in Early Childhood Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

K.M. DiColandrea (DiCo), New York ‘07

High School, Speech & Debate/Latin, Achievement First Brooklyn High School, Achievement First Schools, Brooklyn, NY

K.M. DiColandrea teaches Latin and is the director of a successful Speech and Debate program at Achievement First Brooklyn High School. As the Director of Speech and Debate, DiCo manages four faculty members and 30+ students who compete as one of the few all-minority teams competing on the national circuit. DiCo’s students have placed at the national, state, and local level and have gone on to attend high-level universities. From 2007 to 2011, Dico taught Latin, Debate, and collaboratively taught Biology and Algebra at Frederick Douglass Academy in New York, NY. DiCo is a graduate of Yale University and received a M.S.T. in Special Education from Pace University.

Trevor Ditzler, Miami-Dade ‘11

Elementary School Teacher, Lenora B. Smith Elementary School, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami, FL

Trevor Ditzler is a 4th grade math teacher at Lenora B. Smith Elementary School in Miami, Florida. His passion for inquiry and inclusion means that all of his students get the opportunity to shine, learn and lead in and out of the classroom. His strong emphasis on community and values-based leadership translates to the classroom where the culture is one of inclusivity, community, joy, and passion. Mr. Ditzler is the Co-Founder and Lead Advisor of Club Code, his school’s first enrichment program. He is also the Founder and Director of school Dance Program and the Co-founder and School Director of Summer “Exploration Academy.” Mr. Ditzler is a graduate of UC-Santa Barbara and received a Masters from King’s College London.  

Farida Mama, Massachusetts ‘11

5th Grade Mathematics, UP Academy Dorchester, UP Education Network, Boston, MA

Farida Mama is a 5th grade math teacher at UP Academy Dorchester in Boston.   Her students have demonstrated the largest quantifiable growth in Massachusetts mathematics. This success is due to the students' and her belief in the power of every second of instructional time to accomplish differentiated, ambitious goals. Ms. Mama has also committed to building students' awareness of systemic injustice and encouraged them to share their knowledge and give back to their communities. She serves as a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, Grade Level Team Leader, Founder of Young Leader social justice student leadership program, Saturday Math Academy Coordinator, and Boston Teachers Union Building Representative. Ms. Mama began her career as a teacher in Boston, MA at Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and received her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Boston University.  

Andrew Paulsen, New Jersey ‘12

9th & 10th Grade Teacher, East Side High School, Newark Public Schools, Newark, NJ

Andrew Paulson teaches math in general education, inclusion, bilingual, honors, and self-contained settings at his placement school, East Side High School, in Newark, NJ. Mr. Paulsen teaches rigorous and inquiry-based geometry lessons that have led to 92 percent of his students mastering common core objectives. Due to Mr. Paulsen’s mentorship and investment, his students have access to networks and opportunities like participating in an early college program, going on overnight college trips, and attending the 2013 presidential inauguration. He founded a Saturday morning SAT Preparation Program and a Public Speaking and Leadership Development club. Andrew is a graduate of Marist College and received his Masters in Educational Leadership from Seton Hall University.

Renee Purdy, Phoenix ’00

1st Grade Teacher, Roosevelt Elementary School, San Leandro Unified School District, San Leandro, CA

Renee Purdy, a first-grade teacher in San Leandro, CA, has taught at Roosevelt Elementary school since 2004. Her classroom is hard-working, calm, and joyful. She has a deep respect for the parents and community she serves. She co-founded and coordinated a Latino parent outreach group called “Cuentos Familiares,” which provided parents with tools to establish a daily reading routine, to develop a strong vocabulary with their children, and was a forum to discuss parenting concerns, school involvement, education, and family goals and traditions. Prior to teaching at Roosevelt, Ms. Purdy as Teach For America Staff Member. She began her teaching career with Teach For America at Maxine O. Bush Elementary School in Phoenix, AZ. Renee is a graduate of Willamette University and she received her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University.

Desiree Raught, D.C. Region ‘07

10th Grade English and AP Language, McKinley Technology High School, District of Columbia Public Schools, Washington, D.C.  

Desiree Raught has served as an English teacher at McKinley High School in Washington D.C. since 2008. She has taught everything from English I to AP English. Ms. Raught surpassed district expectations on all reading and writing exams. Desiree is the English Department chair, and she coaches colleagues in using data to inform instruction. In addition to serving as the Student Government Association Sponsor, she has worked extensively to build the Gay-Straight Alliance club at her school, helping to coordinate Anti-Bullying campaigns, participation in the No Name-Calling Week, and the creation of district-wide curriculum that is more inclusive of LGBTQ students/perspectives. She has been honored as a “Highly Effective Teacher” by DC Public Schools for the past four years. Desiree is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and holds an M.F.A in Teaching From American University.


About Teach For America

Teach For America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty. Founded in 1990, Teach For America recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding college graduates and professionals to make an initial two-year commitment to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the effort to end educational inequity. Today, 8,600 corps members are teaching in 52 urban and rural regions across the country while more than 42,000 alumni work across sectors to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education. Teach For America is a proud member of the AmeriCorps national service network. For more information, visit www.teachforamerica.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter