This June, at the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Jaffe family’s support for Teachers College’s Peace Corps Fellows Program – a master’s degree program that prepares Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to teach in under-resourced New York City public schools – Jody Olsen, Director of the nation’s Peace Corps program, gave the College a ceremonial bell. The plaque for the bell, which now hangs in Zankel Lobby, reads: “This bell, a gift from the Peace Corps to Teachers College, celebrates over 30 years of our mutually rewarding collaboration in promoting peace, education and progress.” The celebration honored TC Trustee Emeritus Elliot Jaffe and his wife, Roslyn, for having “generously supported the over 750 Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows.” In 1985, Olsen was part of a member of the team that created the TC Peace Corps Fellows – the first graduate program in the country to provide scholarships for volunteers returning from Peace Corps service.
The ceremonial bell is a nod to a Peace Corps custom practiced in countries around the world, of ringing a bell when volunteers conclude their service “in country.” But far from concluding their service to the Peace Corps Fellows, Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe recently gave the College a $2 million gift that, together with a match from TC, is covering full tuition for cohorts of a dozen or more Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows annually.
“The Jaffe family’s gift of providing superb teachers for our students exemplifies what Teachers College is all about,” says Elaine Perlman (M.A. ’93), Peace Corps Fellows Program Director. “Short of top medical schools, I don’t know other programs that fully fund their entire cohort of students.”
The new funding brings the Jaffes’ total giving to the College to $5.4 million, with their support for the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows coming on three levels: via generous “enrichment grants” that enable Fellows to purchase books and classroom supplies, take their students on field trips or initiate projects; the Jaffe Cultural Arts Program, through which the Fellows bring students to performances at Lincoln Center; and the full tuition scholarship support through the Jaffe Fellowships.
Meanwhile, the Jaffes’ daughter-in-law, Helen Jaffe, who joined TC’s Board in 2017, has herself become deeply involved in the Peace Corps Fellows, participating in story-telling workshops during the program’s Intensive Summer Institute, visiting Fellows in their classrooms and – of course – attending the festive annual pizza parties.
“The impact of the Jaffe family has always been enormous, but now, with the ability to recruit Jaffe Fellows who couldn’t otherwise afford tuition, we are increasingly able to draw the best and brightest to TC and New York City classrooms,” Perlman says.
The impact of the Jaffe family has always been enormous, but now, with the ability to recruit Jaffe Fellows who couldn’t otherwise afford tuition, we are increasingly able to draw the best and brightest to TC and New York City classrooms.
—Elaine Perlman, Director, TC Peace Corps Fellows Program
Perhaps no one can better express the value of the program than the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows themselves – and several of them did just that at the celebration in June.
“Many of the returning Peace Corps veterans come back to the United States with a more nuanced perspective of the world and greater insights into the opportunities afforded by our society,” said Michele St. John-Denerstein (M.A. ’18), who volunteered for the Peace Corps in Ivory Coast and now teaches high school English in the Bronx. “Serving as Jaffe Fellows allows us to communicate that through our lessons.”
Maria Sebastian (M.A. ’18), who volunteered for the Peace Corps in St. Lucia and is now a social studies teacher in Brooklyn, said that “the Peace Corps Fellows Program, much like the Peace Corps, has opened doors to a whole new world for me. These were some of the most difficult yet profound years that have added a light to who I am today.”
For many of us, joining the Peace Corps isn’t a two-year commitment – it’s a lifetime commitment of service. And nowhere is that clearer than with the Peace Corps Fellows Program. We get to translate our Peace Corps service back home in a tangible way every day.
—David Lennington, current Jaffe Peace Corps Fellow
David Lennington, who will receive his TC master’s degree in 2021, is a middle-school English teacher on Manhattan’s Lower East Side who served in the Peace Corps in the Federated States of Micronesia. “For many of us, joining the Peace Corps isn’t a two-year commitment – it’s a lifetime commitment of service,” he said. “And nowhere is that clearer than with the Peace Corps Fellows Program. We get to translate our Peace Corps service back home in a tangible way every day, which is a truly awesome opportunity.”
And Marc Skelton (M.A. ’05), a social studies teacher and basketball coach at Fannie Lou Hamer High School in the Bronx (and recent author of Pounding the Rock: Basketball Dreams and Real Life in a Bronx High School, published by Penguin Random House), confided that “becoming a Jaffe Peace Corps Fellow was, for me, a ballast against the chaos of the daunting task of finding out what to do with my life.” Skelton, who served in the Peace Corps in Moldova, added, “I’ve been able to navigate a career in education that I’m proud of.”
These bright young people return from the Peace Corps after serving in some of the most challenging places on Earth. They have been tested, and yet they continue to show their determination to make the world better as great teachers. And what better place is there than a New York City classroom for them to bring more good to the world?
For their part, members of the Jaffe family are deeply proud of the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows’ accomplishments. “These bright young people return from the Peace Corps after serving in some of the most challenging places on Earth,” says Elliot Jaffe. “They have been tested, and yet they continue to show their determination to make the world better as great teachers. And what better place is there than a New York City classroom for them to bring more good to the world? We know hundreds of Jaffe Fellows. We get back as much as we put into the program, and more.”