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Making an Impact, From East to West

  • Kelley Pomis
    Photo credit:
    The Peak
    Kelley Pomis is founder of Wake UP! Students for Educational Equity

Kelley Pomis’ career journey is taking her full circle to impact thousands of kids from the east coast to the Rocky Mountain West.

A native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Kelley joined Teach for America after realizing that her families’ opportunities increased with more education. Ten years later, Kelley found herself making a meaningful impact for kids as program director with Teach For America in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Kelley loved the idea of coaching adults, but she knew in her gut that long term change in Charlotte would have to come through it’s students. “What would it look like to engage students in a meaningful way and long term?” Kelley wondered.

And with that, Wake UP! Students for Educational Equity was born.

Wake UP! engages students around issues of social justice in their community. The program cultivates leadership and awareness skill of students and their teachers. The program pushes students to ask “What does educational inequity look like, why does it exist and what can you do to change it?”

“It changed how students were thinking about their school and the problems and issues that were present, “ Kelley said.

In Wake UP!’s second year, one group of 8th grade students noticed a lack of diversity in students taking honors courses. Ninety percent of non-people of color were taking honors courses even though the school was fifty-percent students of color. To meet this need, students created a campaign to educate parents on the benefits and curriculum of honors courses.

But it wasn’t long before Kelley realized her projects were not making the impact she had hoped. Kelley’s husband had attended a National Organizing Workshop, or NOW and suggested that the LEE community organizing resources and network could help.

“These projects aren’t yielding results and why is that?” she asked herself. “When I realized I didn't have the community organizing skill to really make an impact, I remembered that I have access to LEE.”

In December Erika Galloway, Director of Regional Advocacy Support at LEE, put Kelley in contact with Zeke Cohen (The Intersection) to help cultivate Kelley’s knowledge and skill gap around community organizing. She also attended a NOW to build up her skills even further.

“Attending a NOW revolutionized what I was thinking about community organizing” Kelley said.

“In my first 2 years of Wake UP! We had people build out the projects and send them off to do it and expected it to be done in 2 months. NOW opened my eyes to the fact that there is a cycle of community organizing and a process for how it works and how it makes an impact,” she says.

Kelley couldn’t be happier with the amount of knowledge she’s gained from her experiences with LEE, and urges others with project ideas to reach out.

“LEE is there as a resource,” she said. “LEE is in place to make sure we have the tools, resources, skills, to actually do our projects. LEE has a strategy and get it done people.”

Wake UP! is off to a great start for the next year of the program. The Chief Education Advisor to the governor, Charlotte School Board members, students and other community leaders attended the latest summit and all made commitments to get involved. Two students will serve on the Governor’s advisory committee for as long as it exists and one student will be a School Board Member at Large.

“I want to build the movement of cultivating our next generation of leaders. Five to ten years from now I want our students to know the connection of TFA/LEE and to be civil rights lawyers, corps members, and addressing the issue of how are we handling educational equity.

The first ever wake UP! student representative wanted to be a broadcast journalist but now plans to become a civil rights lawyer and corps member because of her work with Wake UP!

That’s impact.

Now the Deputy Executive Director of Colorado Springs, Kelley has no plans to let up. She hopes to empower other alums to continue the Wake UP! movement in Charlotte and in communities across the nation.

What would it look like to engage students in a meaningful way and long term?