The Catholic University of America

Taking Her Talents to Memphis

Eager to explore new cities after graduation, senior sociology major Bernadette Poerio chose Memphis, Tenn., as a top choice on her Teach for America application. After she advanced through the highly competitive interviews, Poerio was accepted to the program and assigned to the upbeat southern city.

“If you had told me last year I was going to be a teacher in Memphis, I would have never believed it,” Poerio exclaims.

She says she first heard about Teach For America through a friend and was immediately interested. Wanting to get involved, she became the campus campaign coordinator for the national organization at Catholic University. In this role she would advertise the program on social media, distribute flyers on campus, and speak with classes and organizations on getting involved.

On the application, individuals choose their top 10 choices for placement. Poerio says she was fortunate to get one of her top choices, as Tennessee has been a popular destination for many graduates. She will teach in the Shelby County school district, working with students who have a wide range of learning abilities.

Teach for America places college graduates in low-income communities for two years to help strengthen their education systems. Poerio will begin teaching this fall as an instructor for grades six through 12.

Poerio leaves for Memphis this June for an intense six-week training program. Often referred to as “teacher boot camp,” it provides training on every aspect of running a classroom.

“I think I am going to be learning more than the kids. I want to learn how to be humble in any role that I choose and to respect every child that I teach.”

Since freshman year, Poerio has been an active member of CUA’s chapter of Best Buddies, a non-profit organization that partners students with individuals who have disabilities. Since joining, she has served on the Best Buddies board as treasurer and as president. Currently she serves as activities coordinator.

Poerio says she speaks with her buddy John on the phone most days, and when they are together, they take walks and visit the Prince George’s Plaza mall, his favorite place. Even when she was abroad her junior year, the two stayed in contact. Poerio says she has fond memories of the Christmas Best Buddies dance freshman year.

“John went up to the DJ and requested the song ‘My Girl,’ had it dedicated to me, and then asked me to dance.”

Every Wednesday Poerio and other students visit Bethlehem House, the community in the Brookland neighborhood where many of the buddies live. They cook dinner and play games. This past summer Poerio lived and worked at Bethlehem House as a caretaker. Duties included cooking dinner, doing the dishes, running errands, and spending time with the buddies. Working from 2 to 10 p.m. each day, she says she loved every minute spent there.

“When I am in Memphis, I will definitely keep in contact with everyone from Bethlehem House. It has been an experience that has shaped my life and I am so thankful for it.” She says she will take with her the message that Best Buddies promotes — dignity, respect, and inclusion for all.

She is currently an undergraduate fellow who helps freshmen get acclimated to the CUA community. Since junior year, she has been an assistant in the Office of Campus Activities. While she has spoken with fellow Teach for America members, she will travel to Memphis alone. With her Memphis tourist guide in hand, a present she received from her parents, she says she is excited to embark on her next journey.

She has only one hesitation. “I hate country music, so that should be interesting,” Poerio laughs.


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Bernadette Poerio

Hometown: Woodbridge, N.J.

Degree: Sociology, minor in Peace and Justice Studies, 2014

Favorite Book: Jane Eyre. I read it when I was 13 and it was the most unique Cinderella story I have ever read.”

Favorite Movie: "Say Anything"

Favorite Class at CUA: Sociology of Juvenile Deliquency

Favorite Area or Spot in D.C.: Union Station for the great shops and restaurants