One of the biggest questions I have asked myself since walking into my 7th grade social studies classroom in Washington, D.C. in 1993 is: Why? Why have I dedicated my career to ensuring that a free, accessible, and excellent public education is a non-negotiable, essential human birthright?
As an Arizona resident and university faculty, I had seen the undeniable connection between policy, politics and education. When LEE approached me about applying for the Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship, I jumped at the opportunity to explore how I could impact education policy versus simply conducting research, writing articles and presenting at conferences.
During the fellowship, I was placed with the Valley of the Sun United Way’s dynamic Education Team. I was assigned to work with the cradle-to-career education pipeline initiative and research chronic absenteeism and its debilitating impact on children in grades K-12. I infused my findings with the social justice and equity analysis tools LEE provided. The United Way leadership team encouraged this critical approach and we identified that chronic absenteeism disproportionately affects students from low-income communities.
By the end of the fellowship, my project created a network of schools that will analyze the causes of chronic absenteeism and identify supportive interventions for students to help improve their attendance. Personally and professionally, my biggest contribution was my role in leading a shift in policy conversations to reverse the current approach in many Phoenix schools that criminalizes truancy.
Another invaluable aspect of PASF was all of the opportunities for coaching and professional development. The weekly cohort meeting, regular conference calls on policy issues selected by fellows, and individual coaching calls exponentially increased the benefits of the program. And the support extends beyond the program as well. With support from my LEE coach, I attended the 2015 African American Leadership in Policy Symposium at the 45th annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference.
The cumulative impact of such an intensive albeit short two-month fellowship is that I have left the university to work in policy as a Community Impact Facilitator with my placement organization. And, the answer to the ever elusive “Why?” is that I can, with the support of a program like LEE’s Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship, transform my ideas and theories about educational equity into reality.
Washington, DC ‘93
Mary Roaf currently serves as the Education Facilitator of Destination Graduation at Valley of the Sun United Way, her summer placement site. In this role Mary collaborates with five middle and high schools to prepare their 6th-9th grade students for high school graduation and post-secondary success. She currently manages three of six of the program's school-based staff. Additionally, Mary was recently selected to the 2017 cohort of the LEE Public Leaders Fellowship to support her goals of running for school board.