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Back in the Field: Urban Scholars 2016

By Marin Jorgensen on August 24, 2016 10:56 AM
A look at the most recent graduates of the Urban Scholars Program and what they are doing now.

For the 2016 members of the Urban Scholars Program, applying for the fellowship had been a no brainer. Why wouldn’t they want to be a part of a group whose members shared their dedication to urban education? To have the support of peers with similar interests from the very beginning of their time at the Ed School seemed too good to be true. And that wasn’t the only perk.

“The Urban Scholars fellowship affords HGSE the opportunity to provide financial support to students who come to HGSE with a demonstrated commitment to urban education,” says Mary Kiesling, assistant director for master's programs. “In addition to their coursework, fellows engage in co-curricular programming which allows them to share their experiences and challenges from the field, have thought provoking discussions with faculty in a small group, and gain a deeper understanding of ways to approach their work.”

Among the graduates at the 2016 HGSE Commencement were the 14 Urban Scholars — the program’s 10th class — primed to return to the field to share the knowledge and skills gained in their year at HGSE. Below is a snapshot of what some members of the most recent Urban Scholars class are doing now.

Chris DarbyChris Darby
Special Studies
Hometown: Berkeley, California
Then: Running arts and education think tank, NMBG, and working as an academic mercenary — tutoring high schoolers and consulting for students writing admissions essays
Now: Continuing  work with NMBG, with a focus on The Free Poster Program; working on FourthWrite, a writing consultancy founded while at HGSE that focuses on admissions essays

“I believe we are currently in a nexus of social, political, economic, and environmental crises, and education is an indispensable component of the work necessary to guide our species out of this mess. I grew up in an urban area and know firsthand the power of urban students who are too often marginalized and maligned. Along with their rural and suburban counterparts, these urban youth have the energy, imagination, and resilience to scout better ways forward. Urban education at its best is a means to empower, inform, and support the youth as they do the work we are counting on so desperately.”

Sonia EssaibiSonia Essaibi
Prevention Science and Practice, Counseling Strand
Hometown: Boston
Then: Nonprofit work in Boston and New York City, supporting first-generation college-goers from low-income families
Now: Working on licensure to become a school counselor at an urban public school

“As someone who was born and raised in Boston and who has worked in urban settings throughout my career, I see what resources are available and how rich those resources can be. I also see that school can be a safe place for those who may be experiencing hardship in their home or in their neighborhood. Unfortunately, too many young people are not prepared for high school and beyond. I want to connect my students to resources that will help to ensure their success and advocate for them (and improve upon my ability to teach them to advocate for themselves) in places where there are gaps.”

Ria Fay-BerquistRia Fay-Berquist
Arts in Education
Hometown: San Francisco
Then: Teacher in community-based education, continuation high schools, juvenile justice settings, and university-level art schools
Now: Summer arts teacher for boys’ secure detention facilities in Boston; in the fall, a teaching fellow for Adjunct Lecturer Lynette Tannis, Ed.D.’13, in Educating Incarcerated Youth; researching education in juvenile justice settings throughout the U.S. with Senior Lecturer Pamela Mason and Tannis.

“I am committed to improving education for poor kids, as a former poor kid myself. I was born in a city, I was raised by city people, I have now lived in cities for the majority of my life. For me, the urban environment is rich beyond belief, yet the unequal methods through which resources are hoarded and parsed out, particularly in the age of gentrification, has everything to do with how successful our low-income children (disproportionately children of color) can be. I do not believe we have education problems as much as we have money problems. We need to move away from trying to do good work on the cheap, and confront the biased thinking that leads us to frame delivery of educational rights as some kind of charitable act. I am fighting for that.”

Jeffrey KingJeffrey King
Technology, Innovation, and Education
Hometown: Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Then: High school chemistry and Chinese teacher
Now: Working on ed tech startup, EduSaga.

“I started my career in education because I was passionate about closing the achievement gap and providing equal opportunities for all learners. Though I grew up in suburban Cherry Hill, where my school district provided me every opportunity to succeed, I knew this was in stark contrast to Camden, located just 15 miles away, where students did not nearly have as many opportunities as I did. The difference in educational opportunities ultimately drove me to teach in an urban high school that served Camden’s students. It is also why I continue to remain deeply committed to urban education.”

Ben LeddyBen Leddy
Human Development and Psychology
Hometown: Charleston, Illinois
Then: Middle school social studies teacher
Now: Director of curriculum at Poly, a new education startup

“In the Urban Scholars Program, I got to connect with people who are passionate about equity in education and reflect together on our experiences in and out of the classroom.”

Gabby PingueGabrielle (Gabby) Pingue
Education Policy and Management
Hometown: Cambridge
Then: Teacher and law school student
Now: Education law attorney representing low-income students of color (future plan)

“Growing up as a low-income student of color in an urban community, my mother always stressed the importance of education to my sister and me; I saw the many benefits of focusing on my education growing up and I continue to see them even now. Many students of color reside in low-income, urban communities and too often do not receive an adequate education and unfortunately, do not get a chance to see such life benefits. Therefore, I will work to safeguard this under-served population’s educational rights to ensure that students of color in urban communities receive the quality education they deserve and can reach their full potential.” 

Liz RickettsLiz Ricketts
Special Studies
Hometown: Flint, Michigan
Then: Co-founder of The OR, a small nonprofit challenging consumer society by educating youth about the social and environmental injustices within the global fashion industry.
Now: Director of The OR, working on an object-based exchange program with youth in the U.S., Ghana, and South Africa and developing resources and tools that engage adults in deconstructing their role as consumers

“Education should empower youth to think critically about their role as citizens, not train them to become subservient to consumer society. For the sake of our relationship to self, to other people and to our planet, I believe urban education must cultivate alternative methods of measuring and defining success.”

Sarah SavageSarah Savage
Learning and Teaching: Instructional Leadership
Hometown: Esko, Minnesota
Then: English teacher and instructional coach in Weldon, North Carolina, and Boston
Now: Assistant principal for humanities in Nashville

“The Urban Scholars Program introduced me to a diverse group of people from across the HGSE community who advocate for improvements in urban education. These people offered thoughtful, nuanced perspectives on the issues facing our students in urban communities: these perspectives helped to elevate thinking and provide a platform for exploring measures by which to enact sustained, productive changes both in and beyond the classroom.”

Lisa SheaLisa Shea
Learning and Teaching
Hometown: Basking Ridge, New Jersey
Then: English teacher and director of literacy for a network of charter schools
Now: Director of curriculum and instruction at George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy in New Orleans

“I started to teach in urban schools because I saw the opportunity gap as the most important social-justice issue of our time. I’ve continued to work in urban schools because I see my students’ potential and want to make sure that every student lives a life that’s full of choices.”

Lara SpeightsLara Speights
Language and Literacy, Reading Specialist strand
Hometown: Mexia, Texas
Then: Middle school English teacher at IDEA Public Schools; dean of instruction at YES Prep Public Schools
Now: Literacy specialist with YES Prep Public Schools

“The discussions within the cohort pushed my thinking and enhanced my time at HGSE. Some of my closest friendships developed from this group because we were honest with each other and pushed each other’s thinking through our different perspectives on education.”

Isabella SperdutoIsabella Sperduto
Human Development and Psychology
Hometown: Purcellville, Virginia
Then: Dean of students
Now: Resident principal at the Southwest campus of AppleTree Early Learning Charter School in Washington, D.C.

“Having the opportunity and the space to reimagine what is possible for our most struggling students was revitalizing. My year at HGSE gave me the energy and the motivation to return to this challenging work more focused and committed than ever.”