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Local Peace Corps volunteer to teach math in South Africa

Jul 14th, 2011 | 0

By REID TUCKER

By the time this story appears in print, Zach Gershkoff will have begun the first of his 27 months in South Africa as a math teacher with the Peace Corps.

The DeFuniak Springs resident, who graduated in 2009 with degrees in math and Spanish from the University of Florida, flew to Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, July 6, and left from there to fly to South Africa following an initial briefing and orientation.

Gershkoff, a National Merit Scholar, initially wanted to pursue a master’s degree in math at U.F. but began to look farther afield for ways to use his extensive background in mathematics when he wasn’t accepted into the university’s graduate program. A friend who had been assigned by Peace Corps to work with orphans and low-income children in the Philippines convinced Gershkoff, who previously worked as a math tutor at Northwest Florida State College, to volunteer as an educator.

“When I started to suspect that graduate school might not pan out I started to look into other things to do,” Gershkoff said. “I didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities for work using [mathematics], so I thought, why not join the Peace Corps and teach it?”

Despite having first submitted an application to the Peace Corps in May 2010, Gershkoff did not find out he would be assigned to South Africa until a year later. He said being unsure as to whether he’d been cleared for the program was the worst part of the ordeal, even considering the extensive battery of medical tests, background checks and security clearances he needed to have before his application could be processed. He didn’t even find out where I was going until May of this year.

Further complicating matters, the Peace Corps had 17 percent of its budget slashed in February. Gershkoff feared the organization would need to use the money to support workers already in the field and might not accept new volunteers as some programs were eliminated entirely, economic and community development programs among them. Education programs, though, had not been curtailed as much, so he was able to get in.

Although he knew he wanted to be a teacher, Gershkoff said he did not immediately decide on being a math teacher.

“It wasn’t that easy to decide what to do,” he said.  “I might have been a youth development worker in South America or an English teacher in Asia. I had to think about it for a bit, but I decided that wasn’t really what I was best qualified for. That’s not where my interest lies. I’d rather be teaching math.”

Gershkoff earned his associate’s degree while attending the Collegiate High School at what was then Okaloosa-Walton College and bypassed many of his bachelor’s degree prerequisites before transferring to U.F. in 2006. Before he graduated as a double-major three years later, he had already taken several graduate-level math courses. Gershkoff could end up using his extensive math background to teach at the elementary school level all the way up to the college level once in-country….

Read the full story in the July 14, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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