When I first applied to Teach For America, my motivations were similar to many other applicants: The disparity in the quality of education that students receive based on their socioeconomic status was unacceptable. Having grown up attending schools in low-income communities, I wanted to take part in the movement for educational equity. Being a teacher allowed me to make a profound and immediate impact in the lives of others.
As much as I loved teaching, I felt my impact was limited to only my students. Even though I was responsible for well over a hundred students a year, I was unable to impact the hundreds of others in my school building. I also realized that kids in my community were deeply impacted by local and state policies well after they left my classroom. Furthermore, policy decisions were being made by people who either did not have experience in education or were not representative of my students and their needs.
That is when I made the decision to continue my fight for educational equity outside of the classroom. But there were a few barriers — how do I enter the world of policy, and am I even qualified?
I decided to apply to the LEE Policy & Advocacy Summer Fellowship (PASF), a full-time opportunity that combines hands-on policy experience and on-the-job training with leadership development programming for eight weeks. As a Fellow, I was placed in the Office of Educator Effectiveness and Family Engagement at the Nevada Department of Education.
During the fellowship, I assessed family engagement efforts at the state’s underperforming schools and researched and recommended best practices. The work I did created greater awareness of the state of family engagement in Nevada. More and more research shows the importance of family engagement in schools and the effect this has on student achievement.
My work helped the department identify which strategies were not being used by under-performing schools and where greater assistance was needed, and laid the foundation for a national database of best practices for family engagement. As the project expanded, we began to collaborate with other states’ education departments to make an impact on a national scale. I never could have imagined that my work would potentially impact so many students.
The PASF gave me access to the world of public policy and the chance to see how uniquely qualified I was for this type of work. Even though I did not have experience in public policy, I did have experience in the classroom, knowledge of the challenges students face, and my own lived experience as a student and teacher.
With the help of LEE coaching throughout my fellowship, I realized my experience was valuable and that a career in educational policy was possible. The relationships I built throughout the summer opened doors and led to my current role as a full-time Public Policy Fellow at the Nevada Governor's Office. But most important, the fellowship allowed me to align my values with a career I care passionately about.
Find out more about the Policy & Advocacy Summer Fellowship.
Alberto Quintero (TFA Las Vegas Valley ’13) is a former LEE Policy & Advocacy Summer Fellow with the Nevada Department of Education and a current LEE Public Policy Fellow in the Nevada Governor's Office/Nevada State Board of Education.