SFER creates visualization of educational inequality

BY SHIRA KIPNEES ’15
Staff Writer

Students for Educational Reform (SFER) hosted an event on Hartman Green to help promote awareness of educational inequality Oct. 3.

“We wanted to create a visual representation of educational inequity,” said Alexis Teevens ’13, chapter leader of F&M Students for Education Reform.

To create the visual, SFER set up 100 chairs on Hartman Green. Only eight of the chairs were draped with F&M t-shirts, representing the eight percent of students from low-income communities who finish college. The other 92 chairs represented the students who did not.

The idea for the visual representation was the brainchild of Michelle Carroll ’13, who, in addition to formulating the idea, was responsible for much of its execution. The visual aimed to show how severe the problem of educational inequity is and how striking the statistics are, according to Teevens.

Malu Malhotra ’14, vice president of SFER, was also stricken by the statistics and hoped the visual provoked thought among students.

“This is not only a terrible statistic, but it also shows that going to college is not the norm in many of these areas, causing less students to feel motivated to even apply to college,” Malhotra said. “Our goal was to show the F&M community what education inequality looks like and we hope that it inspires some students to take action.”

Malholtra thought the visual was successful in communicating the extent of the inequality to students. She also believes the event was successful due to the positive feedback she received. Teevens agreed the event was effective in reaching a large audience and raising awareness about inequality.

“Most people saw the visual representation and I received a lot of questions about the statistic,” Teevens said. “People were shocked, and I’m hoping the campaign sparked a lot of conversation about public education in our country. We were also able to time it with Wendy Kopp’s Common Hour, so it was great that she mentioned our event during her presentation.”

Teevens believes interest in educational reform on campus is increasing, noting the growing amount of seniors interested in post-graduate opportunities in education. She also sees many students volunteer for education-based programs with the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement and participate in the College Prep Summer program.

She posits Dan Porterfield, president of the College, has increased awareness for educational inequality and these programs through social media. Malhotra also noted his pivotal role in regards to campus awareness about educational inequality.

“Since Dr. Porterfield has arrived on campus, education reform has become a very hot topic,” Malhotra said. “We have had more students applying to Teach For America and other programs for recent graduates like Urban Teaching Center and the MATCH School than ever before. Students are definitely seeing a need to have more passionate and qualified teachers in the classroom and are taking the proper steps to make it a priority. President Porterfield is heavily encouraging students to apply to these types of programs as well and has been a great supporter of Students for Education Reform.”

SFER at F&M is one chapter of a national organization. The larger organization, which now has over 70 subsequent chapters, was founded at Princeton University in 2009.

Teevens heard about the organization through a Teach For America recruiter and was able to start a chapter after applying through the national organization.

According to Teevens SFER is a national organization aiming to mobilize the next generation of student leaders to make positive changes in the U.S. public education system. The F&M chapter was founded in January 2012.

“We are lucky to be a chapter of a national organization which helps us achieve a much greater set of goals than we would probably be able to achieve if the group had started by itself,” Malhotra said.

The club currently has 12 highly-active members and nine additional members who help whenever they can. However, they hope to expand their
membership.

“We definitely want to grow our chapter though and recruit more people who are dedicated to closing the achievement gap” Malhotra said.

SFER works to integrate these ideas into the campus community. Members hope their awareness and activism events will encourage students to work and volunteer within the field of education, especially within the School District of Lancaster.

In addition to this event, SFER runs several other different programs and campaigns to spread awareness to the campus community about educational inequality. According to Teevens, the club tries to sponsor events that specifically reach the whole campus. Last semester, they held film screenings of Waiting for Superman and The Lottery. They have also held discussion series about charter schools and school vouchers, as well as smaller discussions about the Chicago Teachers’ Strike and Teach For America. Each event has been more and more successful, promising effective programmming for the rest of the semester.

However, the club is quick to point out their work is nowhere close to being over; education affects many other political issues in the country, and as such Teevens believes citizens should be well-versed in and passionate about fixing educational inequality. Because of this national importance, Teevens believes the issue will play an important role in the upcoming election.

“President Obama and Governor Romney both alluded to education in the first debate, but I am hoping they will go more in depth in the future,” she said. “I think it’s easy to say that education is important, but I would like to see more concrete plans for how each plans to make significant changes.”

Despite political importance, Teevens noted the debate on educational reform is not split along party lines. She provided the example of the Chicago Teachers’ Strike. Teacher’s unions have historically been a democratic-leaning voting base, Obama did not comment on the strike.

In addition, Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, criticized the Chicago Teachers’ Union for the strike. In accordance, SFER believes voters must pay attention when candidates talk about education, as the split between democratic and republican views is not as clear as it is for other issues.

“Education is not an issue that typically splits the Democratic and Republican parties, and thus it is not an issue that the candidates are focusing on,” Malhotra said. “Education is a very important component in improving our economy and voters should do their research and pay attention even to the little things that candidates say about education reform.”

SFER has many plans for programs and events this semester including educational-themed movies and panel discussions. The group also hopes to visit local schools and help F&M students find opportunities to volunteer with K-12 students in Lancaster. Teevens said the organization is planning an Education Week in conjunction with the Office of Student and Post-Graduate Development during the week of Nov. 12. with events on Nov. 12, 13, and 14.

The organization will host “Is Educational Equity in America Possible?” in the Brooks great room on Nov. 12 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. This will be a panel discussion featuring Donnell J. Butler, Ph.D. ’95, senior associate dean for planning & analysis of student outcomes; Katherine McClelland, Ph.D., professor of sociology; Shawn Jenkins ‘10, special assistant to the dean of the College for strategic projects; and Jerelyn Rodriquez, national program director of SFER.

There will be a program entitled “Spotlight: Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.” Nov. 13 during the uncommon hour, again in Brooks great room, where pizza will be served. The program will feature Aaron Bass, Ed.M. ‘01, founding school leader and principal of KIPP Dubois Collegiate Academy (Philadelphia) and MollyMae Wall ’12, capitol teaching resident for Pre-K, KIPP LEAP Academy (Washington, DC).

The there will be an Education Opportunities Fair from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 14 in the Roschel Performing Arts Center Lobby. The participating organizations include Teach For America, KIPP DC, KIPP Philadelphia, National College Advising Corps, Urban Teacher Center, Students For Education Reform, The Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, City Year Greater Philadelphia, Children Deserve A Chance, The Office of Student & Post-Graduate Development, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Citizen Schools, and more.

SFER will also be participating in the women’s center discussion that week. Interested students should contact Alexis Teevens at ateevens@fandm.edu or Malu Malhotra at mmalhotr@fandm.edu. The club has a Facebook page where students can hear about education news updates at http://www.facebook.com/sferfandm.

Questions? Email Shira at skipnees@fandm.edu.

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