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Michelle Aguilar: Discovering our true potential in advocacy spaces

Tell us about your Public Policy Fellowship placement. 

I currently serve as a Research & Policy Fellow at the Texas Public Charter Schools Association (TPCSA). My host organization is a non-profit advocacy organization whose mission is to support and advocate for public charter schools to ensure that every family in Texas has the ability to choose a high-quality public school. I serve on the TPCSA’s policy team, where I conduct research and analyze Texas Education Agency school data that directly impacts legislation and public opinion. So far, I’ve worked on research projects related to restorative discipline practices, special education, school inclusiveness, and students facing homelessness. I’ve written blog posts about grant funding available to innovative teachers through the Texas Education Agency and new rules from the previous legislative session that pertain to public charter schools. One of my favorite aspects of my role is attending and testifying at State Board of Education hearings.

What has been most valuable about your Public Policy Fellowship?

I’ve been given the opportunity to serve as a key, contributing member of the policy team at my host organization. I’m treated as an equal in policy discussions, which is incredibly empowering. At the same time, I’ve also been able to transform into a sponge in order to learn from my colleagues who are experts in policy and advocacy. 

What is your biggest takeaway from the fellowship?

The LEE Public Policy Fellowship (PPF) is impactful to its fellows in two very distinct ways. For one, PPF has allowed me to reflect upon my own strengths through LEE’s strategic coaching and leadership development. On the other hand, fellows are provided with hands-on experience through their host organizations. This separate experience allows for fellows to be engaged in policy at thirty to forty completely different advocacy organizations across the country. In my role at TPCSA, I’ve seen growth in my skills pertaining to research, public speaking, and relationship-building. 

Tell us about your vision for educational equity.

My vision for educational equity is deeply personal. I envision a society where children with multifaceted identities, similar to my students’ and my identity, have access to a high-quality education. My hope would be that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status or race, would have access to quality teachers, innovative technology, and challenging curriculum. 

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?

After PPF, I know with certainty that I will dedicate the rest of my career to being an active member in the journey towards educational equity. I’ve learned to analyze and question outdated or longstanding aspects of education that do not benefit all students. I’m confident in my ability to navigate a space that can be very political, bureaucratic, and forgetful of the reasons why we are so engaged in this: our students. 

How has LEE supported you in achieving this vision?

The expertise of LEE staff when it comes to professional development, networking, and project management skills is exceptional. I highly recommend the fellowship if you know of your interest in the policy and advocacy realm, but don’t know how to get your foot in the door. Our fellows are making valuable policy changes through their work at host organizations across the nation. Some of our fellows work for government agencies and others work for advocacy non-profits. A few fellows relocated for the fellowship, and others work for host organizations in their TFA placement city or hometown. I firmly believe that building coalitions of equity-minded individuals is one of the greatest ways to advocate for what is right in the education system.

Why is it important to have opportunities like the Public Policy Fellowship accessible?

The Public Policy Fellowship allows TFA alumni to deep dive into policy work and discover their true potential in the advocacy space. I’m personally very grateful for the opportunity to be a fellow because it’s difficult for anyone (even those with policy, advocacy, or political experience) to know where to begin.

What would you tell those who are thinking about or are interested in applying to the Public Policy Fellowship? 

“Reach out!” I’ve never met a LEE staff member that wasn’t willing to go above and beyond in response to my questions. If you’re a LEE member who has attended any of the summits, you can expect to find the same professionalism and organized programming in PPF. If you haven’t attended any summits, attending one of those is a great way to start your involvement with LEE! 

*The above interview has been transcribed and is in subjects' own words, with minor edits for clarity or brevity.

Accelerate your policy or advocacy career while making a real impact on the country’s education landscape. Apply for the paid, full-time Public Policy Fellowship by April 12.