“I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for Teach for America,” says Elsie Urueta Pollock, founder and executive director of Tulsa Honor Academy and a TFA alumna (St. Louis, 2008). “If I had not joined TFA, Tulsa Honor Academy would not exist.”
In May, Pollock received the inaugural Lynn Schusterman Award for Excellence in Leadership from TFA Greater Tulsa in recognition of her vision for equity, investment in relationships and commitment to place — and the positive effect she has had in the lives of Tulsans, according to leadership.
Pollock established THA six years ago in east Tulsa. Its mission focuses on college preparedness, and though it’s not a dual language program (classes are taught in English), approximately 75% of its students are bilingual. Many are immigrants or the children of immigrants, and the school provides extra language support for those who need it.
Starting with fifth grade, the school has grown one grade level each year. This fall, those founding fifth-graders will spend their sophomore year in THA’s newly renovated high school facility, the former PennWell building near East 15th Street and South Sheridan Road. According to Pollock, THA is the first charter school in Tulsa to own its building.
Originally from the U.S./Mexico border metroplex of El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, Pollock has been passionate about social justice for most of her life, eventually choosing education, and a charter school, as the best tool to effect change.
Now 34, she came to Tulsa at age 8.
“I always grew up with the Latinx community around me, but at school, I was often the only brown girl in the honors classes, and I was often the only person of color in my classes,” she notes. “I strongly believe equity in schools and education is one of the most important social justice issues of our time.”
According to Pollock, only 6.5% of the adults in the east Tulsa community where she grew up have a college degree. With THA she wants to help overcome those language, cultural and systemic barriers that contribute.
“I always knew that it wasn’t because our kids weren’t smart enough or capable,” she says. “It’s just that we weren’t preparing our kids for this opportunity.”
Since 2009, TFA Greater Tulsa corps members have taught nearly 75,000 Tulsa students and currently support a network of nearly 400 talented and diverse leaders, like Pollock, working across sectors to expand opportunities for students.
Though she’s honored to receive the Lynn Schusterman award, she’s quick to emphasize it’s not for her efforts alone.
“Our teachers and our staff are incredible,” she says. “I feel like this award is for THA and our community.”