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From Moldova to a Denver classroom, walking in this hopeful teacher's shoes

The sandals of Tori Filbrandt
The sandals of Tori Filbrandt
Photo courtesy of Tori Filbrandt

Victoria Filbrandt is a 2014 Colorado Teach for America Corps member who is two-parts idealist and one-part pragmatist. On the one hand, she is coming off of her Peace Corps placement in Moldova in order to fulfill a two-year commitment to Teach for America, a national nonprofit that seeks to ensure that one day all children have an excellent education. On the other hand, she did not waste even one step in her walk to catch her 6:20 a.m. Tulsa Public Schools bus to go instruct and invest a classroom of 6th grade Oklahoma children during summer school where Filbrandt was a teacher for the past four weeks.

What follows is my interview this morning with Filbrandt (fresh off a climb of Mt. Bierstadt, Colorado):

  1. What made you want to join the Peace Corps after graduating from the University of Colorado-Boulder?

I knew I wanted to do something adventurous with my life before I ‘settled-down’ per se. I also remember my Mom talking about the Peace Corps when my sisters and I were younger. She would say, “If I hadn’t gone to medical school, I would have joined the Peace Corps.” Years later in high school, I Googled what this Peace Corps thing was all about. I fell in love immediately and wrote it on my Bucket List, ‘to join the Peace Corps.’ Then I put it on the back burner until my senior year of college. Many other friends of mine were considering applying and had spoken very highly of the organization. Hence, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life, I applied as well and the rest is history!

  1. What was the biggest challenge you faced in Moldova once you arrived and began teaching? What was the biggest accomplishment? Do you still stay in touch with your host family?

One of my biggest challenges while in Moldova was finding time to do all the things that I wanted to do and that my community wanted to do together. At the beginning when I first arrived in my village, it was hard for people to trust me and hard for them to understand why I was there. Most of them had never seen a foreigner before, let alone an American. Once we built that mutual trust, we came up with so many ideas together to meet the needs of the community. Because of this, I felt that when I left, there was so much more work that could have been done. But nonetheless, we did accomplish a lot together in the short two years we had!

I taught Health Education at a school of 500 students. Aside from our weekly Health Education lessons, we implemented many Health Campaigns in our school, painted various murals, built an outdoor basketball and volleyball court with help from a USAID grant, organized a momentous walk across Moldova to promote volunteerism, wrote a Health Education curriculum from scratch, and of course, spread peace and friendship between the United States and Moldova. Because no one spoke English in my village, all of this was done in Romanian, a language I knew nothing about before arriving in country. One of my biggest local supporters was my host Mom, who I became really close with. I definitely stay in touch with her as best I can and as a source to all the local happenings.

  1. What made you want to join Teach for America after concluding your time in the Peace Corps?

Just like when I joined the Peace Corps at the end of college after not knowing what to do, I kind of fell into Teach For America the same way. Before Peace Corps, I had never really thought of teaching as a career option for me but I fell in love with it during my service in Moldova. I did not have my teaching credentials and saw Teach For America as an organization that aligned with many of my same ideals and goals. Teach for America also provides an alternative pathway to obtaining my teaching credentials. I was looking for something challenging and an opportunity where I could feel like I was making a difference. I did a little research and applied to Teach For America! It was a little strange conducting all of my interviews from the other side of the world, as well as having to fly to Romania for a quick 6 hours to take my Praxis content aptitude test; but nevertheless, it all worked out and here I am!

  1. You come from a big family with parents in California and two sisters. Can you comment on what part their influence has played on who you are today?

My parents have always held us to a high standard. It was never actually said but they created this culture in our family that we all work hard no matter what, we never give up and we all support each other without hesitation. My Dad created a family motto, OFST, which means ‘our family sticks together.’ This motto is written pretty much everywhere you look in our house; on the bottom of our kitchen dishes, on outdoor benches, on the lifesaver that hangs by the pool, etc. One sister is in law school; the other is in medical school but we still manage to have ‘Family Meetings’ every Sunday at 8am PST via Skype. With all of our crazy schedules and jet setting around the world, this is the time that was set and you don’t want to miss it! Someday I hope we can buy a huge plot of land and build three houses for our three families, which of course will be right down the street or across the creek from my parents’ house!

  1. When did you first start volunteering in your community? Before joining the Peace Corps, what did you enjoy doing the most, in terms of community service?

I cannot remember the first time I started volunteering. I remember going on mission trips to build houses every Spring Break down in Mexico, volunteering at the local hospital, and volunteering with National Charity League – a mother-daughter philanthropic organization. I think from all of the volunteer experiences I have had, I find the most joy in seeing the faces of the people who I am working alongside of. For example, the expressions on the faces of a family when you hand them the keys to their new house you and a team have just constructed, or the faces of hurricane victims when you serve them a hot meal after seeing everything they owned taken from them, or the faces of the students when you offer them a new basketball to play with on their brand-new court. Those are the memories I remember and enjoy the most.

  1. You like rowing as a sport. What first interested you in this sport? What made you stick with it and row today when you can? What else are you passionate about in your free time?

I first started rowing in college. Rowing is actually one of the only sports you can pick up in college as a novice. My older sister was on the team at her university in San Diego. Me, I was drawn to the team aspect and lifestyle she had as a rower. I stuck with rowing because it was something I was good at and something I really enjoyed. I made a lot of lifelong friends on the rowing team. After college (and before the Peace Corps), I moved to Oklahoma City to train at the National Training Center there with hopes of making the National Team. I have stepped down from that high level I was once at, but I hope to pick up rowing again sometime very soon. Aside from rowing, I am passionate about most things outdoors: hiking, biking, running, swimming, triathlons, camping, and more recently, gardening. I also love to bake and read, though it’s hard at the moment to find time for either of those activities.

  1. You have seen a fair amount of research about the achievement gap in public education for children living in poverty in America? What challenge facing children attending schools in low-income communities most surprised you and why?

From my experience teaching summer school for five weeks in Tulsa, the thing that most surprised me - to put it frankly – is, in fact, the achievement gap. I had one student who was a rising 6th grader who was reading at a 1st grade level and could barely add two numbers together. I knew previously that there was an achievement gap, but I never saw it first-hand in the U.S. like what I saw in my classroom. I think the students I will be working with in Denver face challenges outside of the classroom that I am not fully able to comprehend at this point, however this means I will not hold them to any lower standards. All students will achieve in my classroom regardless of their backgrounds so that no opportunity is unreachable in their future.

8. If you saw a newspaper headline 5 years from now that meant your work had been successful, what would it say?

Principal Filbrandt returns to Moldova for grand opening of “Scoala pentru Profesorii in Rolul Leadership-ului”

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