Study Break: Ryan Shepard, Ed.M.’11By newseditor
Program: Education Policy and Management
Tool for Change: Advocacy
Hometown: Los Angeles
Kids need to be given chances. Student Government Association president Ryan Shepard knows this. He’s seen it in the classroom during his two years with Teach For America. He’s seen it in his own life. It’s what drew him to the Ed School. “Access can transform lives,” he says. “I have faced significant obstacles, but my success is a direct result of the chances I have been given.” It started his freshman year in high school, when his parents lost their home in Los Angeles and, for a year, their family, which includes five kids, floated from one relative’s house to another. “It’s one of those things that typically surprises people because the stereotype of homelessness in America tends towards the extreme,” he says. “We were a middle class family with five kids and two hardworking parents who did everything they could to hold things together. Unfortunately, our situation got worse before it got better.” But the next year, his mother helped get him into a program in the city that allowed kids to enroll at high-performing public schools on conditional bases. “El Segundo High School was only 10 minutes from my house, but seemed like a different world. The opportunities at the school were eons greater than the prospects at my assigned school.”
By the time he was a senior, he had moved from remedial math to AP courses, even becoming a math coach for a struggling student. College as a goal seemed, for the first time, possible. He eventually enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta and became, he says, “like a scout” for friends back home who didn’t have the same opportunity to leave but wondered what life could be beyond California.
Your parents struggled but also played a key role in your ability to have chances.
During elementary school I attended a churchsponsored private school that charged about $300 a month. Between my parents working multiple jobs and contributions from my grandparents, my family found a way to make the payment each month. I know how tough it was for my mom to make ends meet, but she never complained. If she had to pick up an extra shift when she worked at McDonald’s or put in overtime on her city job, she did it.
Besides your family, what motivates you?
The moving hands on the clock. It reminds me that good or bad, nothing last forever.
If you could meet with President Obama and convince him to implement one education policy, what would it be?
I think the federal government is limited in its impact on education, but I’d encourage the president to use his influence to promote increased accountability in public education. Race to the Top is a great start.
Most important acronym in the history of education:
NCLB, ESEA, IDEA, other
Lots of U.S. presidents have called themselves the “education president.” Who really was/is?
Your long-term plan is:
To move back to Los Angeles. I’d like to dive into local politics as an advocate for education. I haven’t figured out what title I want, but my dream role will allow me to craft and influence policy that improves access to quality education for the most disadvantaged students in L.A.
You’re a big L.A. sports fanatic. If you were starting a new team, Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell?
Wilt. Better scorer and rebounder. Plus he scored 100 points in a game.