Photo credit:Chase Heilman
My decision to leave the classroom did not come easily, and I continuously wondered whether I would do anything as challenging and rewarding as teaching. Thankfully, with support from TFA alumni and LEE members, I’m discovering a new path outside of the classroom.
Both groups were instrumental in encouraging me to explore my options and challenging me to grow in my ability to impact education and make a difference in young people’s lives. This led me to participate in LEE’s Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship in 2014, which included an opportunity to work at the Maricopa County Education Service Agency (MCESA) on the Disconnected Youth Initiative.
Prior to my arrival, MCESA had taken the lead in organizing a collective impact effort to improve outcomes and increase opportunities for youth in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. MCESA was prompted to take action after a 2012 front page story in The Arizona Republic revealed that one in five Phoenix residents, ages 16 to 24, were neither working nor attending school. The finding, from the Measure of America report “One in Seven,” represented the highest number of “disconnected youth” among 25 cities nationwide.
My summer fellowship project at MCESA focused on creating opportunities for disconnected youth. I completed research and wrote two briefs on local and national collective impact models and disconnected youth initiatives. This research served as the framework for a summit that explored strategies to re-engage and enhance opportunities for disconnected youth. The event took place in Phoenix and was attended in person and virtually by over 300 policy makers, education non-profits, and policy and advocacy organizations among others. During the summit, participants learned about impacting disconnected youth through re-engagement centers, one-stop shops for connecting youth to careers and educational opportunities. Attendees learned about cross-sector efforts being developed in the nation, and locally, to create educational momentum and career pathways. Additionally, our attendees discovered strategies for utilizing principles of positive youth development.
My passion for students and educational equity was noticed and led to an offer to become the Youth Reengagement Program Coordinator for MCESA’s disconnected youth initiative. MCESA entrusted me with one of their key projects and allowed me to direct and create the vision, approach and structure of the initiative.
LEE’s summer fellowship gave me the space to explore other ways to make an impact beyond the classroom. Not only did the experience equip me with new skills, it also continued to broaden my perspective on how to approach educational inequity. During my fellowship, I wrestled with whether to stay at MCESA or transition full-time into an education policy role. Through my one-on-one calls with my LEE coach, I was able to determine a path that was most appropriate for my skills and interest. My coach provided me with tools and guidance to make the decision to work in both sectors. If you are thinking about how to make a difference in education through policy and advocacy, I encourage you to apply for this opportunity.
The transition out of the classroom has been difficult at times, and there is not a week that goes by where I do not remember the impact that my students had on me. My role will continue to shift as MCSEA’s initiative grows, and the answer to my original question will continue to evolve based on my experiences. However, wherever this journey leads me, one thing remains clear: I will always be an advocate for educational equity.
About LEE’s Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship
Each year, hundreds of LEE members express an interest in entering and advancing in careers in policy and advocacy, and look for ways to gain knowledge, skills, and experience. Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE)’s Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship helps recent alumni and current corps members who are members of LEE gain valuable, hands-on experience. LEE matches selected Fellows with a host organization for an 8-week, full-time professional internship and supports them through national and regional professional and leadership development programming. Throughout the program, Fellows will have an opportunity to explore the root causes of educational inequity and to develop tools that promote more equitable solutions.
How to Apply
Check out our Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship page for information regarding summer 2016 applications.