Imagine spending more than two years away from the world you know and everyone in it to immerse yourself in a different culture, language and environment, and then to come home and juggle a full-time master’s program while working as a teacher in a high-needs school in New York City. Driven by an unrelenting desire to make a positive, lasting impact, this is what the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows do—and they have been an instrumental force in NYC public schools for nearly four decades.

Since its founding in 1985, the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows Program has prepared roughly 778 teachers to work in New York City Public Schools—“teachers who have had an immeasurable impact on the youth of our wonderful city,” says Aimee Katembo, Director of TC’s Office of Teacher Education.

In January, members of the 2022 and 2023 Jaffe Fellows cohorts, along with mentors, former fellows, TC staff, friends and supporters gathered near Teachers College for an annual dinner that highlights past and current Fellows’ achievements.

In her remarks, Jaffe Fellows Program Director Amy Nelson explained that it’s the valuable field experience that returning Peace Corps Fellows bring into the classroom that makes the program so special.

“Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows understand the importance of being global citizens. Their service in various countries across the globe provides unique insight and cross-cultural connections that students in New York City benefit from immensely,” explained Nelson. “As teachers and leaders, [Fellows] are social-justice-focused with a deep respect for all people and this passion is imparted into all the students they serve."

As the first program of its kind in the nation, the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows Program provides scholarships for volunteers returning from Peace Corps service—covering 100% of their tuition as they teach various subjects in a high-needs NYC public school while simultaneously earning their master’s degrees.

The landmark program has been long supported by the late TC Trustee Emeritus Elliot S. Jaffe, who passed away in November 2023, his wife Roslyn and their family. Their generous continued support totaling more than $7 million reflects the Jaffe’s commitment to endow and sustain the program.

Elliot’s son David, his wife, TC Trustee Helen Jaffe, and program leaders shared remembrances of Elliot as part of the evening’s festivities.

“Elliot was always devoted to the Fellows and committed to learning how to best support them, within the ever-changing needs of the field. He was ever present and a true partner to the program,” said Katembo during a toast in memory of TC’s treasured friend and leader, who during his life enjoyed reading postcards from Fellows, his son David recalled during the gathering. 

“Elliot, a keen businessman, understood well what his investment in these new teachers would mean,” Katembo continued. “Given the myriad challenges our city, state, country, and world face, we need Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows in our schools more now than ever before.”

Learn more about the life-changing experiences of the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows from a few of our current and past Fellows: 

Finding The Path

Emma Webley (M.A. ’24, Bilingual and Multilingual Education)

Where She Makes a Difference: PS 89, Bilingual teacher, Brooklyn, NY

Serving in the Peace Corps wasn’t on the radar when Emma Webley ’24 was finishing her undergraduate degree in Spanish and French at the University of Melbourne. In fact, she had never heard about the volunteer program until she borrowed a book from the library.  

Webley served in Ecuador, where she co-taught 10th, 11th and 12th graders. As her service to the Peace Corps was coming to an end, Webley again began to research her options and discovered the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows Program at Teachers College.

“I love the fact that I could continue being a bilingual teacher in the US because I really liked the fact that I was using two languages in the classroom in Ecuador, and I wanted to keep doing that,” she said.

At PS 89, Webley is able to use her experience from the Peace Corps with her students, the majority of whom are from Ecuador.

“When I was in Ecuador, I felt like the community gave me a lot and people were very kind and patient with me,” she said. “Connecting the Peace Corps to my job means that I can continue to work with a community that I feel very close to. By understanding where a lot of my students are from, I’ve been able to incorporate little things that I know they'll be familiar with into my lessons, and that's been really nice.”

The 2022 and 2023 cohorts also include: Ashly Emerson (TESOL), Perry Watkins (Bilingual Bicultural Education), Yusuf Siddiq (English ED 7-12), Kenefa Auguiste (Intellectual Disabilities/Autism), Sam Johnsen (CUED Math ED 7-12), Emma Webley (Bilingual and Multilingual Education), Dustin Holmes (TESOL) and Jon Ahn (English ED 7-12). 

Achieving Dreams

Kristy De La Cruz (Ed.D. ’17, Ed.M. ’07, M.A. ’03)

Where She Makes a Difference: NYC Schools, as a Community School District 4 Superintendent, Harlem, NY,  supervising numerous school leaders, and previously in numerous leadership roles at both the school and district levels. No one understands the need for Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows more than Dr. Kristy De La Cruz ’03. She graduated from the TESOL program  in 2003 and returned to complete Education Leadership Ed.M. and the Urban Education Leaders Ed.D. programs in 2007 and 2017, 

De La Cruz has been serving as an educator and leader in the NYC public school system for more than 20 years.  

“When I transitioned to the Bronx, Principal Jose Ruiz hired me because I was a Peace Corps Fellow,” she said, “He told me, ‘I've been in the Bronx long enough to know that Peace Corps Fellows are not any kind of fellow, a Peace Corps Fellow will stay and persevere.’”

De La Cruz came to the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows program in 2001, after serving three years in the Quirino Province in the Philippines. She applied for the Teachers College Peace Corps application on an old-fashioned typewriter and sent it with a post-it note explaining the rural-ness of her location. When she began the program in July 2001, she brought the values her parents and the Peace Corps had instilled in her.

“When you go to any community, you listen, learn, observe and try to be respectful of the community. I try to hear from people what they need and how I can best serve the community,” she said.

Prior to serving in the Peace Corps, De La Cruz had worked as a math teacher in her home state of Kansas, but credits the Jaffe Peace Corps program for making her dreams come true in a way that she could’ve never imagined.

“Being in New York City and having a career that you love are gifts. My whole goal was to be a teacher,” she said. “The Jaffe Peace Corps Fellows program created the seed that has touched every aspect of my life.”

Kimberlee Davidson (M.A. ’05)

Where She Makes a Difference: Assistant Principal, Pelham Preparatory Academy,  Bronx, NY

Kimberlee Davidson entered the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellowship program in 2003. She completed the TESOL program and graduated in 2005. As the Assistant Principal of Pelham Preparatory Academy in the Bronx, she also works with Peace Corps Fellow Sam Johnson who is a math teacher.

“Teachers College is a special place where I always feel at home. And the Peace Corps Fellows Program set the foundation and mindset that shaped my career as an educator. I've even hired two return volunteers since I've been an administrator,” Davidson said. “On a deeper level, some of my closest colleagues and friends are because of the Peace Corps Fellows. I keep coming back because I have built and maintained a community with the Peace Corps Fellows at Teachers' College.”

Elmer Myers (M.A. ’96, Ed.M. ’94)

Where He Makes a Difference: Principal of PS3, Staten Island, NY

Elmer Myers entered the Jaffe Peace Corps Fellowship  program in 1994. He completed the mathematics education program and graduated in 1996. Elmer also returned to TC to complete the Ed Administration Ed.M. Program and graduated in 2004. Myers also met Jean, his wife of 27 years, through the program.

“The Peace Corps Fellows Program program allowed me to meet, learn and work with a group of similarly minded people looking to improve the lives of young people through education, while supporting one another in that journey and the struggles that come with change,” Myers said.