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Summer 2015

Their First Year

Sterling Higa, Ed.M.'15 (Arts in Education)

Their First Year: Sterling Higa

Their First Year: Sterling Higa

FALL

SPRING

I arrived at the Ed School knowing I wanted to either continue working in education nonprofits, teach in a classroom, or branch out into education policy. After a month of being here, I found the classroom calling louder than the other avenues. I'd like to teach for a few years, and with that experience, I want to see how I can help in the reform of the education system in my home state, Hawai'i. I could see myself as a principal or even a superintendent one day, and I don't think I had anticipated either of those possibilities before I arrived.

If I learned one thing this year, it's that I look good in a suit. In class, I considered ways public policy could be influenced to improve educational outcomes for students. I learned this year that most educational inequity is rooted in structural economic inequity. Addressing one alone will not be enough to achieve the results that students need back home in Hawai'i. This month, I was recommended for admission to a Ph.D. in education program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. I hope to spend the next five years refining my understanding of the social and political context for education in an effort to design and implement better policy.

Daphne Penn, Ph.D.

Their First Year: Daphne Penn

Their First Year: Daphne Penn

FALL

SPRING

My experiences as a high-achieving student in an underperforming high school, a struggling African American student in a top-20 university, and a classroom teacher in a Title I elementary school, profoundly shaped my interest in positively impacting the field of education. Upon leaving my career as a teacher to begin my path to academia, I struggled to figure out how I could contribute both to the academy and the students who inspired me to pursue graduate-level studies. After a month or so of being here, what I want to do is become a university professor and conduct research that bridges the gap between the academy, policymakers, and the population(s) that I research. Substantive course work highlighting racial, socioeconomic, and educational inequalities across the life course combined with my yearlong participatory action research course has provided me with a framework for conducting rigorous research while simultaneously empowering others to make impactful change within their respective communities. Additionally, given the severe and longstanding underrepresentation of minorities in the American professoriate, I want to mentor and prepare students from underrepresented backgrounds for careers in university-level teaching and research.

My first year as a Ph.D. student has transformed my thinking about education, the possible futures of marginalized youth, and my role in building capacity within underserved communities. Coursework has helped me to reflect on how my educational experiences have largely been detached from my social reality as a black woman from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background. Although I have successfully navigated culturally nonresponsive schooling environments, millions of students continue to struggle under the status quo. The social reproduction of inequality cannot end until we move past deficit models of schooling that require students to abandon their culture in order to become a success. Education should extend beyond the classroom and into communities. Additionally, we must reject overly deterministic attitudes about the roles of structure, culture, and agency in promoting or undermining success. Finally, I believe that neither research nor activism alone will eradicate inequality. Instead, research as activism is the key to solving educational inequality and empowering marginalized youth. As a future university professor, I plan to leverage my knowledge and privilege to do good work and impact positive change within the academy, marginalized communities, and the field of education.

Merete Kropp, Ed.M.'15 (Human Development and Psychology)

Their First Year: Merete Kropp

Their First Year: Merete Kropp

FALL

SPRING

I want to support children and families who are living overseas who may not have immediate and convenient access to educational, developmental, and health services in their primary language. Up until this point in my career, I have taught young children in international schools. My students and their families are global nomads who weave different cultures and languages into their lives on a daily basis while living and working overseas. For the past five years, I was teaching at the Early Learning Center of the American School in Japan. I came to HGSE to learn more about how children learn and develop within the context of multiple languages and cultures and how moving from one country to another throughout their childhoods effects their development and identity formation. I also hope to learn more about two-generation programs that mentor and coach parents as well as provide educational services for children in order to perhaps someday implement such a program for internationally mobile families.

As I finish up my year at HGSE, I believe that I have gained new insights into both early childhood development and program implementation that helps to clarify the path I would like to take going forward. I plan to launch an interactive online parent education platform aimed at parents who are raising children internationally. Through this platform, parents will have access to personalized information and resources on child development, as well as the opportunity to connect with a mentor or coach who can respond to the individualized needs of each family within their context through the use of video and other technologies. Although I am sad to see this invigorating year at HGSE come to an end, I am excited about new possibilities going forward and grateful for the opportunity to have learned from and been guided by the faculty here, as well as my classmates.

Cornelius Lee, Ed.M.'15 (School Leadership)

Their First Year: Cornelius Lee

Their First Year: Cornelius Lee

FALL

SPRING

After a month or so of being here at HGSE, I want to begin examining the external factors — poverty, unemployment, and crime — that impact urban neighborhoods. The historical context that underpins our country's educational framework is deeply rooted in societal factors that affect schools. In essence, schools reflect society, and as a result, attenuating external policies that influence minority populated urban centers could potentially mitigate long-lasting, harmful affects to these communities. I came in wanting to be a principal, but I soon realized I was much more interested in the issues a principal has to juggle that are completely outside the purview of a school's jurisdiction. Unfortunately, these peripheral elements largely affect how students perform in schools. I'm unsure where this discovery will take me after HGSE, but I'm leaning towards education policy or pursuing a law degree.

As my time at Harvard comes to an end, I'm 100 percent certain the primary civil rights issue of contemporary society is education. Education is the bedrock of our country's political, economic, and social development. However, gross injustices continue to plague our country's classrooms and school buildings at astronomical rates. Resources are unfairly allocated and opportunities are carelessly truncated at the cost of children's livelihoods and to the benefit of political ambition and social elitism. Schools were originally created as incubators for American idealism and democracy. Yet, democracy during this time was only afforded to the white and mostly elite of society. Schools still reflect a fractured and highly stratified reality. However, there are dedicated individuals who are relentlessly combating the nefarious blight of classism and racism that stymies children's trajectory for success. These people have been the colleagues, professors, and Boston educators I've been blessed to work with at HGSE. I'm ready to get back in the trenches next year and continue the fight for equity and justice in Chicago Public Schools as a resident principal.

Irteza Binte-Farid, Ed.M.'15 (Education Policy and Management)

Their First Year: Irteza Binte-Farid

Their First Year: Irteza Binte-Farid

FALL

SPRING

Coming in as a student, I thought I would be learning a great deal about education policy and preparing myself to become a candidate for a policy position on the regional level in order to tackle issues such as the achievement gap and unequal college access for low-income, first-generation students. However, after arriving, I realized that instead of simply learning about information, I want to learn how to create that information to answer my questions. I have immersed myself in research courses in order to understand two things: how to become a critical consumer of research and how to create sound research. Instead of simply viewing research as a process removed from social events, I hope that my research can be applied to the field of education in the future. I have been learning about methods, such as action research, which engage researchers with the community to answer questions that arise from local needs. While my interest in educational access for low-income, first-generation students still remains, it has simply taken a new form. I can only imagine how my interests may change in the future.

Every moment at HGSE has been a learning experience. Having entered with little background in the education field, I am now feeling like I have a broader and deeper understanding of the different currents of research, thought, and direction that educational pedagogy and policy can take. I am a novice — there is a great deal I still want to learn — but what I can do is continue to learn about the field of education in as much depth and breadth that I can manage. It is in pursuit of this goal that I will be starting a Ph.D. program at UPenn's Graduate School of Education this coming fall. My research will be in the Education, Culture, and Society Department, where I can continue to explore how education serves as a tool for social mobility, especially in the lives of underrepresented minorities. I can learn how to produce qualitative research that can potentially affect scholarship and/or policy, and continue to articulate how it is that education can serve as the tool for social change and mobility in our current society.

Joshua Jenkins, Ed.M.'15 (Language and Literacy)

Their First Year: Joshua Jenkins

Their First Year: Joshua Jenkins

FALL

SPRING

What I want to do in education is help. I want to help kids learn to read and write. I want to help teachers teach reading and writing. I want to help parents know what they can do at home to help their children's literacy development. For the last few years, I was helping students at a public school in New Orleans. At times (okay, most of the time) I felt like I was taking a stab in the dark. Trying this, trying that. I was reading so many things to figure out a "right" way to teach reading and writing. Luckily, I had great mentors who really helped me be more strategic and were willing to "talk shop." I was also fortunate to get my feet wet helping teachers with literacy in their classrooms. Working with families is my next frontier; it's something I did occasionally in my practice (phone calls, occasional letters, report card conferences), but am just now beginning to realize is fundamental if we want sustainable change. I'm embarrassed I wasn't working with families more — but I'm relieved I'm realizing this early in my career instead of at my retirement party.

As the end of semester two approaches, I'm lucky to have found a role that so closely matches what I love and want to do. On September 1, I will be a literacy specialist for a small, public elementary school in Newton, Massachusetts, at a school with students almost entirely from the very nearby community (the principal says nearly all of them walk to school). I will connect with teachers and parents around literacy and getting kids to LOVE BOOKS and writing. The added bonus and asset is that there are around 20 languages spoken by students in this school! For all of us, the cross-cultural conversation is an exciting opportunity to learn about different perspectives, customs, and languages. I will also have the joy of working with parents of children from Boston who come to the school through the METCO Program. I am thrilled, terrified, and humbled to take on this new role and help make an impact for the children and community at this school. New beginnings mean lots of butterflies in this guy's stomach!

Clint Smith, Ph.D.

Their First Year: Clint Smith

Their First Year: Clint Smith

FALL

SPRING

As a high school English teacher in Prince George's County, Maryland, my students and I used literature as a lens through which we explored the realities of the world around us. We read Richard Wright's Native Son to frame conversations around the prison industrial complex. We used Julia Alvarez's How the García Girls Lost Their Accents to explore socio-historical policies around immigration, and used William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to tackle issues around political dissent. As I begin my Ph.D. here, I'm interested in researching the manifestations and implications of critical pedagogy in secondary school classrooms. It is essential for students to use education as a means to both recognize and push back against the oppressive forces that pervade our society. The question is how can teachers, schools, and communities work with students to understand that the world is a social construction, and thus can be reconstructed to better serve the needs of their communities? I'm interested in how, as educators, we can use the curriculum to push our students to imagine a new world, a better world.

Over the course of the past year, amid the swelling "Black Lives Matter" protests across the country, my desire to understand how young people develop a social, political, and civic identity has been reaffirmed and reinvigorated. The ongoing protests have also, however, brought renewed attention to our nation's criminal justice system. In an effort to better understand what is happening in these spaces, I have spent a significant amount of time researching the socio-historical context that has shaped our contemporary policing policies and prison system. Additionally, I began serving as a writing instructor at Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, Massachusetts. The experience has been transformative. I work with a group of men who are simultaneously some of the most brilliant and misunderstood people in the world. I bear witness as they use writing and literature as a means to take back a sense of humanity that has largely been stripped from them. The experience has pushed me to decouple what it means to be "well-schooled" as compared to "welleducated," and made undoubtedly clear that this is a population I want to continue to work with.

Tarin Griggs, Ed.M.'15 (Arts in Education)

Their First Year: Tarin Griggs

Their First Year: Tarin Griggs

FALL

SPRING

I want to bring quality arts programming to urban school districts. I am a dancer and a poet, and I grew up in the thriving San Francisco Bay Area arts scene. So many of the Bay Area schools are under resourced, and arts programming can be considered an afterthought, if it is present at all. I was fortunate enough to have access to dance classes in my public high school, and that experience allowed me to gain personal strength, tenacity, and discipline. Far too often, the only students that are able to partake in arts classes are the ones that are able to afford lessons through studios. For many families, this is not an option. Having the opportunity to express yourself in a creative way is one of the most empowering tools we can give young people. I consider this an issue of equity. I am open to many career paths, but I would love to bring nonprofits together to collaborate and identify the most effective ways to provide services for young people. I am open to working with arts and education nonprofits, foundations, and school districts.

I went through a period of time where I feared that comprehensive education reform might be too big of a challenge to execute well. However, I have learned about deeper learning initiatives, project-based learning, and community-focused efforts that may be steps in the right direction, given the proper support and resources. I want tomorrow's students to be engaged and to have an intrinsic love for learning that continues after leaving the classroom. I plan to return to my work in the nonprofit sector, but I hope to remain involved in promising new initiatives for student learning. I am interested in issues of educational equity and college access, in addition to the work I have done in the arts sector. I have gone through an immense amount of intellectual and emotional growth while here. In addition to the invaluable experiences I have shared with my colleagues and professors, I have realized that my personal experiences hold value, that we do not have to accept flawed systems as immutable entities, and that we have the power to create the opportunities we want — both for students and for ourselves!

Gregory Taylor, Ed.M.'15 (Special Studies)

Their First Year: Gregory Taylor

Their First Year: Gregory Taylor

FALL

SPRING

Before coming to HGSE, I was a special education major at the University of Cincinnati. I plan on heading back to Cincinnati after I finish my year to teach special education through Teach For America, where I deferred my placement for a year. As an undergraduate, I conducted research addressing the unique educational needs of students with learning disabilities included in general education science classrooms. I am able to continue this research here under the guidance of great faculty members. My interest in special education stems from my younger brother Anthony. Anthony has multiple disabilities that affect his daily life. Growing up in a household with a child with disabilities has given me a unique perspective that set me up for success in the field of special education. My courses at HGSE are helping me become a better teacher with a greater breadth of knowledge in the field of education. I am also taking research methods courses to develop my educational research skills. Next year, I expect to continue my research while teaching.

As I wrap up my time at HGSE, my immediate plans after graduation have not changed. I am heading back to Southwest Ohio to reunite with my fiance Caitlin and be an intervention specialist at Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton Public Schools. I am grateful for the experiences I have had and the people I have met at Harvard. This year, I have learned a great deal about education policy and the implications for students with disabilities. In the classroom, I can make more informed decisions rooted in education policy. I was also able to continue my research independently and under the guidance of HGSE faculty this year. After I teach for several years, I still plan on pursuing a doctorate in special education to develop interventions for students with learning disabilities in the science classroom. However, for now, I am looking forward to pairing what I have learned this year with my personal experience and prior education to create more meaningful learning experiences for students with disabilities in Dayton Public Schools.

Gerardo Ochoa, Ed.M.'15 (Higher Education)

Their First Year: Gerardo Ochoa

Their First Year: Gerardo Ochoa

FALL

SPRING

I want to go to college, but I can't afford it. College sounds good, but it's too expensive. These, among countless other stories, have been entrusted to me concerning student doubts about their college futures. As the cost of college continues to increase, so too will students' financial struggles. I want to work in higher education to make an impact on how families pay for college. As a first-generation college student from an immigrant family from Michoacán, Mexico, I know too well the financial obstacles many of our young people face today. As a higher education professional, my life purpose is to serve students and eliminate the financial barriers to a higher education. Money should not be the reason a student does not go to college. We have a long ways to go, but I'm up for the challenge.

My interest in student access and affordability has been solidified while here at HGSE. I envision working with student-centered organizations where student success is at the core of their missions. More specifically, colleges, foundations, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. To improve our college-going, our retention rates, and our graduation rates, multiple stakeholders need to be involved in finding the solution that best suits students. For this reason, I want to create policy, increase resources, and develop programs that serve all students generally, but first-generation students, in particular. Regardless of where my career takes me, I am committed to carrying out my life purpose: to serve all students and provide opportunities for students to persist towards a college education.

Meredith Dreman, Ed.M.'15 (Prevention Science and Practice)

Their First Year: Meredith Dreman

Their First Year: Meredith Dreman

FALL

SPRING

I want to create media and technology that promotes wellbeing. I come from a psychology background, and am interested in motivation, emotion, and critical thinking strategies. Two main questions are arising at my start here: 1) What are the psychological factors present in the development of a healthy mind? 2) How can we design tools that will encourage the development of resilient practices? Currently, technological advances are outpacing student engagement. There are more education and health products available to students of all ages than could possibly be used. However, even when students want to use them, the odds are against follow through. I'm investigating this issue by trying to understand the cognitive and emotional processes that guide behavior. Engaging students and encouraging their healthy development are broad aims that show how many unruly ideas are generated in the first few months of HGSE. Now comes the hard part: figuring out what it means and how to move ideas into action.

The past nine months have been a whirlwind crammed with ideas and stories I will be unraveling for the rest of my life. We share something special at HGSE. Yes, many of us use the word "scaffold" heavily and expect events to start 10 minutes after the posted time. But we also share a state of wonder — wonder about why education is what we see today and how we can design it in the future. If education is a Rube Goldberg contraption, the professors here have given me a lens to focus on the intricacies of building an individual component while appreciating the complexity in which it exists. I am still interested in designing media to promote resilience. In the fall I wasn't sure how to turn that lofty statement into real products, but during my time at HGSE, I built an app to help college students adjust to campus life, a website that delivers messages from loved ones during "rainy days," and a cognitive reframing worksheet to help adolescents cope with stress. I am extremely grateful for this education and am passionate to pay it forward after graduation.

Dwight Rhodes, Ed.L.D.

Their First Year: Dwight Rhodes

Their First Year: Dwight Rhodes

FALL

SPRING

During my nearly 20 years in education, I've had incredible opportunities to serve students in several roles ranging from teacher to principal to chief academic officer. I'd like to think that I've had a positive impact in the lives of students. However, after being at HGSE for only a few months, I am reminded by tragic events involving young black men that there is a tremendous amount of work ahead to radically improve the educational experiences of all students regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, geography, and gender. I find myself urgently standing at a crossroad. What path do I embark upon here and beyond that will enable me to continue serving students in a leading role, that will create an effectively functioning educational system for all students? Honestly, I'm not absolutely sure. However, I do know that having this opportunity to marry my years of practical work experience with the immense resources of Harvard and the incredible talents of HGSE faculty and fellow Ed.L.D. cohort members, is a step in the right direction — a step closer to providing every student in America with the education he or she deserves.

I knew I wanted to impact the educational system in a way that would enable the most academically behind students to catch up or surpass the academic performance of their peers. That goal has not changed. However, my path to achieving that goal has changed, or at least, that path has become clearer than it was nine months ago. I've begun to develop a new lens for discovering how to advance my travels along the pathway of improving student achievement through improved teacher quality. That developing lens is centered on not just knowing the effects of having a "growth mindset," but realizing the power of its implementation in the work in which I engage. For example, by applying a growth mindset, I am now able to imagine an unlikely ally, teacher unions, as my partner in improving student outcomes. Instead of regarding teacher unions as an obstacle to reform, a perspective I vehemently held for many years, I imagine teacher unions serving as a partner to improve teacher quality, thus, improving student learning. Someone could not have paid me enough money to think that way several months ago.