Meet Edith Rodriguez, Summer ’18 UELIP

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Office at DCPS: College and Career Programs

School and Major: Wellesley College, Political Science and Education minor

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Fun Fact: I studied abroad in Cordoba, Spain for a year

What projects have you been working on at DCPS?

Under the College and Career Programs team I am working on researching best practices for post-secondary planning and alumni engagement. I created a College and Career Checklist for 9th-12th grade students to take away any of the mystery of applying to apprenticeships or college. The checklist is also part of an effort to increase visibility on alternate pathways. I drafted a project proposal for alumni outreach in an effort to better track alumni and engage them in further activities. As part of the proposal, I created an Excel spreadsheet template that will house alum contact information and what they did after high school. The spreadsheet will help the College and Career team track alums. I have also been in contact with alumni engagement platform sites to create an alumni portal in which students will be able to network and find employment opportunities.

I was a part of the Post-Secondary planning committee team, in which we created a lesson plan to expose 9th-11th grade students to the different Career Pathways available to them, a Post-Secondary Planning Survey and Pathway Posters that will be distributed across schools starting the 2018-2019 academic school year.

Why did you want to intern at DCPS?  What makes you excited about interning here?

I was the first in my family to go to college and education opened many doors for me. As a Latina with two immigrant parents born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, education was my only ticket out of a cycle of poverty that is so prevalent in my community. My own experiences made me passionate about education. Upon arriving to Wellesley College, I became aware of the systemic inequities in the education system. The classes I took in the Education Department at Wellesley gave me the language to talk about something I had experienced myself. I became committed to making sure every child has equal access to quality education.

I wanted to intern for DCPS because I wanted to learn more about education work at the district level. I had worked directly with students and children in the classroom and with non-profits, but I was interested in doing something different. As I think about my own career path, I want to make sure I have experiences in all the facets of education: classroom, district and policy level.

I was interested in doing work around college access and was excited to be a part of the College and Career team. DCPS is doing a lot of work to include more career pathways in students’ radar and I was excited to be a part of this district-wide change. In high school most students are told that they must go to college. There is so many resources available for students who want to pursue that pathway. But college is not the right fit for everyone and students do have other options. Currently there is not a lot of resources available for students who are looking to explore alternate pathways but, DCPS is working to make those resources available. I am excited to see this change!

Why do you want to work in the education field?

After working for the College and Career team here with DCPS I learned that a lot of work needs to be done in my city of Los Angeles. I want to work in my community to start promoting career pathways. The College and Career Team at DCPS is very committed to their students and making sure that they all pursue their dreams. I was very inspired to watch such a motivated group of individuals be so passionate and work hard for their students. This internship has only made me more passionate about education as I realize there is a lot of work to be done! I want to work with low-income students of color to make sure they know they have options and to support them in any way I can.

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Meet Bianca Viazzoli, Summer ‘18 UELIP

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“Student health is a key factor in making equitable schools… Health can determine if a student comes to school and [health and wellness programming] keeps students safe while they are not at home”

Name: Bianca Viazzoli

Office: Office of Equity, Health and Wellness Division

School (major): Boston University, Health Science with a Public Health Minor

Hometown: Kansas City, KS

Fun-Fact: Bianca is a dual-citizen

Bianca Viazzoli is a rising senior at Boston University majoring in Health Science and minoring in Public Health. Her academic research has focused on HIV studies — specifically clinical studies that have been conducted in Boston-area hospitals.

Bianca is in her second internship with DCPS’ Health and Wellness Division. In reflecting on her experience last summer, Bianca felt that her work supplemented her academic studies by enabling her to see, “how public health actually happens in urban settings and in public schools.” Compared to her hometown of Kansas City, DCPS has very innovative programs to support health equity. For example, she shared, DCPS’ New Heights Program for Expectant and Parenting Students supports student parents in completing high school. Learning about health in schools with DCPS has helped her to better understand how critical health is to students and their ability to succeed. It has also exposed her to the political nature of health. Being in DC, she has begun to understand the roles that the state and federal government play in health programming at schools.

Bianca chose to come back to DCPS this summer because she felt very connected to the work that she did last summer and because she felt that her work was genuinely valued. Even more, she chose to come back to the Health and Wellness Division because she is inspired by her team’s determination to develop strong programming as well as by their commitment to create more equitable schools. She also values the strong mentorship and close relationships she found within her team.

She is enjoying furthering the work that she began last summer. Bianca splits her time between Central Office and DCPS school sites. She has been working on projects to aggregate Health Services Programming and Data, expand health work in schools by cultivating relationships with local health-oriented agencies, create health information resources for schools, and more. One of the projects that Bianca is currently working on is making a video for schools to teach transgender and non-conforming students to know their rights. Bianca believes that this video is really important because, “students feel safer in school and in their communities if they feel comfortable expressing themselves.”

Bianca has seen, from her experiences living in Kansas City and Boston, that “Health can be low on the priority list when you get into a school and it comes down to the day to day of making the school run… teachers and staff have so much to think about. But really health is one of the most important thing to schools.” Bianca strongly believes that health is critical to having more equitable schools. She hopes that more districts will follow DCPS’ lead and similarly prioritize providing health and wellness resources for students.

Meet Robi Roberts, Summer ’18 UELIP

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Name: Robi Roberts

Office: Office of Teaching and Learning, Social Studies

School: Davidson College, Economics major, Educational Studies minor

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Fun Fact: After this internship, I will be studying abroad in Argentina, Spain and South Africa

 One of Robi’s main projects this summer with the social studies team is updating LEAP seminars.  LEAP stands for Learning Together to Improve our Practice, and “is about helping teachers become truly expert at teaching the DCPS Common Core-aligned curriculum – so that every student across the city experiences rich, engaging, and challenging instruction every day.” (read more about LEAP here).

Recently the work of LEAP has shifted from schools receiving a set order of LEAP seminars to a customizable format.  Now, schools pick LEAP seminars to coach teachers in particular skill areas.  These skills can include scaffolding the curriculum, crafting thoughtful questions to help students think deeply about social studies, and reading as a historian.  Robi emphasized that reading as a historian is a major focus in the social studies department. This skill teaches students to “compare sources, corroborate them … and look at historical sources differently.”

Robi also supports the Social Studies summer professional development program, called the BLISS Institute.  At this Institute teachers help update the social studies curriculum.  Centering the curriculum around social justice is a priority in this process.  Robi explains that this means “adding more probing questions, having students dig deeper, and thinking about sources in a social justice context.”

Ending inequity in the education system drew Robi towards working in the education field.  In high school she took many AP classes.  Although the majority of students in her school were black, in these AP classes she was often the only black person in her class. She describes how “other black students would look at me and say, ‘You’re so smart, I wish I was as smart as you.’” That experience taught her the importance of telling all students they are capable of being smart.  She believes that all students deserve classroom instruction that meets their educational needs.

In her sophomore year of college Robi took an education policy class.  She said, “it was my favorite class I’ve ever taken in my whole life, it was just life-changing, and I loved it so much.”  Robi is considering becoming a teacher or becoming involved in education in other ways.  Her education policy class helped her find “that there were other ways that I could be involved in education, like research and policy …  It verified that education was the path I’d take in life.”

Experiences this summer have committed Robi even further to education field and the discipline of Social Studies.  She is taking a class about political polarization and has “learned the importance of teaching students how to be active and informed citizens and really understand their government.”  This class has given her a deeper appreciation for the Social Studies curriculum, and how it focuses upon teaching students those skills and incorporating social justice.  Overall, this UELIP internship has shown how much work occurs in the central office of a school district.  She now has “whole different view of education and educational institutions,” that she doesn’t believe she would see anywhere else. Working with the dedicated staff at DCPS gives her hope for the future of education.

Meet Kyle Hietala, Summer ’17 UELIP

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By Nicole Felmus and Amie Littman

DCPS Office: Chief of Staff, Data and Strategy Team
Education: Yale University
Program of Study/Major: Cognitive Science, History
Hometown: Bath, Maine

When Kyle Hietala isn’t hard at work as a UELIP with the Office of the Chief of Staff, he’s looking through his camera photographing the DCPS UELIP experience. He also takes the time to get to know the subjects of his photos through the interviews he conducts and writes. Kyle finds the interview process a good way to get to know people beyond “water cooler talk.” “It’s my favorite part, easily the highlight of my summer,” he said.

In addition to his social media projects, Kyle’s primary work involves analyzing data and developing statistical models. Despite the fact that Kyle had limited data experience going into the summer, he now “appreciates that data is only as good as the ways you gather it, as well as how you go about asking questions in the first place.”

After looking at over 50 internship opportunities, Kyle decided to become a UELIP because he wanted to do something education-related while still trying something new. To him, “DCPS stood out because it’s innovative, controversial, and well-intentioned.”  Kyle appreciates the location as well. He feels in DC that he is immersed in an interesting culture, which has led him to have a more exciting experience.

After he graduates, Kyle wants to work in the most innovative and creative setting he can, preferably by founding a school one day or serving as a principal. Kyle wants to revamp how schools teach, and would ideally like to see more interdisciplinary approaches to stimulate rich and complex curriculum.

“We talk all the time about how we need STEAM, or science and the arts, and I think the way to intellectually stimulate students is to find ways to put all of those pieces together.”

Meet Ka’myia Gunn, Summer ’17 UELIP

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By Kyle Hietala

DCPS Office: Office of Teaching and Learning, Secondary Mathematics and Middle School Mathematics
Education: Rising Junior at the College of William & Mary
Program of Study/Major: Government, Dance
Hometown: Richmond, Virginia

This summer, Ka’myia is creating materials, such as lesson sequencing guides, curriculum planning calendars, and flashcards and study tools for students, to better support DCPS math teachers in grades 6-8. In a typical day, she’s hard at work developing the mathematics Canvas webpages, a project which has improved her technical skills, especially in html. She found UELIP through the Leadership and Community Engagement program at her college. “Education stood out to me because of the activities I’m involved with,” she pointed out.

Those activities share a common theme and passion: equity. At William & Mary, Ka’myia has taken courses about race and crime, and Africana studies, two learning experiences which made her more aware and concerned about education, particularly in communities of color. During the school year, she gained more applied experience by mentoring a middle school student.

One particular experience in her mentoring role stood out to Ka’myia. “One day, the student I was mentoring got asked to stay in during lunch break to take a test,” she remembered. “But he wasn’t at all prepared for the test, and didn’t know he’d be asked to take it then,” she added.

“When he spoke up to his teacher, she refused to let him postpone it.” But then Ka’myia intervened on his behalf. “I stood up for him, and his teacher changed her mind when I advocated on his behalf,” she said proudly. “I felt like I was his role model and advocate,” she reflected. Her mentee, however, confessed to her that his teacher’s insensitivity wasn’t abnormal. “That’s just how she treats me,” he said to Ka’myia.

Of her experience, Ka’myia said that she “didn’t feel like [she] was his hero, I just felt like something had to be done.” She thinks that if we do a better job of “training teachers how to respect all of their students, we’d be better off.” “That got me fired up,” she said. “Race and education were two things running through my mind.”

“I came into school wanting to be a corporate lawyer,” Ka’myia admitted. But then a course about race and crime changed her whole life. “Communities are suffering in ways they don’t even know,” she said. “Drug laws, traffic stops–these issues in criminal justice are perceived differently in relation to race,” she pointed out. “For a long time, the law has been hurting the same people,” she observed. “I want to make people aware of their rights, because otherwise they’re more likely to believe stereotypes, that they’re just lawbreakers.” Little surprise that corporate law no longer appeals to her as strongly.

“One of my best traits is to bring empathy into whatever I do,” she said. Ka’myia hopes to tackle inequity in the criminal justice system. But law school is the next step, which she hopes to do after college. One way she has learned to practice empathy, and something she hopes more people will do, is re-conceptualize the language they use to talk about people who were incarcerated. “Instead of calling them ex-offenders,” she said, “I prefer ‘returning citizens.'” Even though it’s a small change, she said it’s something that can make a difference, and that the magnitude of impact only grows when more and more people make those small changes.

Discussion with Global Education

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An embassy adoption program. Photo courtesy of DCPS Global Education. 

By Julia Thompson

The Global Education Brown Bag provided UELIP Associates with the opportunity to learn about and to get involved with international education. Jillian Flood, the Coordinator for the Global Education program, was happy to share her team’s newest initiatives with UELIPs.

100% of elementary schools in DCPS offer world language courses, some of which include Arabic, German, and Spanish. These courses are implemented into global education programs. These programs include the Embassy Adoption Program, International Food Days, and Study Abroad. All programs, in Flood’s words, work to create “active world citizens”  through international experiences.

Teachers can get involved as well by becoming Global Fellows, which is a leadership role that allows educators of any subject to integrate international experiences into the classroom curriculum. Global Fellows also become ambassadors and recruiters for DC Public School’s  global programs, helping to select student for study abroad trips.

In The Embassy Adoption Program, embassies partner with DC schools and allow students to have opportunities in leadership roles. Canadian leader Justin Trudeau met with an elementary class last year during his diplomatic visit. Programs like Mini United Nations give students the chance to represent various countries and discuss and debate global issues.

On International Food Days, 50,000 students from across the DCPS area are served breakfast, lunch and dinner from all over the world, accompanied by posters illustrating the global meals and their country of origin.

Study Abroad includes students from various DCPS schools, who are able to travel free of charge. For some students, this is a chance to travel for the first time–and travel at all, not just out of the country. Students apply to the program and are placed in places that align with the world language they currently study.

More information  about DCPS Global Education can be found at https://dcpsglobaled.org/.

Meet Rose Sebastian, Summer ’17 UELIP

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By Kyle Hietala

DCPS Office: Special Education Inclusion Team, Division of Specialized Instruction
Education: EdD Student at University of Virginia
Program of Study/Major: Curriculum and Instruction, Equity focus
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts

Drawing on her years of experience working in special education, Rose is building a more user-friendly Canvas website with special education resources for teachers. She is appreciative of the impact her project could make on the District as a whole: increasing access to special education resources will help ensure that schools are meeting compliance standards in the provision of services–an outcome good for both the students served and the District, in general.

Now a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, Rose gained most of her expertise in the classroom. As a special education teacher, she focused on implementing technology into her classes. “The goal is for students to gain independence,” she said. “Equipping students with useful technology helps them toward that goal,” she added.

Rose’s perspective about special education evolved over her teaching career. “I had been somebody who thought that busing kids to special, isolated programs was best,” she reflected. “But then I noticed that I could get kids to be more successful with me in a general classroom setting,” she observed.

Although inclusive classrooms can subject special education students to social stigmatization, and at worst humiliation, they are more likely to foster productive interaction and improved social development. “When one of my students moved to an integrated program,” she noted, “he got invited to a birthday party for the first time in his life.” Rose thinks that effective special education services have to strike a balance between protecting the pride of the students they serve, keeping everyone comfortable, and providing the highest quality education possible.

Even though special education is “nastier and more politicized” than anything else in education, according to Rose, she’s committed to helping teachers more easily access resources and information about how they can best serve their students with special needs. Of her experience this summer, Rose described it as “phenomenal,” and she looks forward to her Canvas webpage becoming available to DCPS teachers.

Meet Kavi Pandian, Summer ’17 UELIP

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By Kyle Hietala

DCPS Office: Office of College and Career, Educational Technology, Global Education, Inner Core Professional Learning, and LEAP
Education: Rising Junior at University of Georgia
Program of Study/Major: Sociology & Economics
Hometown: Chamblee, Georgia

Kavi has worked for several different teams and on several different projects this summer. He started with the LEAP team, doing work around survey data entry and analysis, and progressed to working with the College & Career team. Kavi has been studying best practices around creating teacher pipelines, part of an effort to partner with local universities to recruit more teachers for DCPS, from DCPS. Additionally, Kavi has dabbled in work with the Global Education team, helping to create more accessible digital resources for students interested in study abroad, world languages, and embassy adoption programs. Dealing with “so much stuff,” Kavi said, “requires effective communication and understanding the priorities of different teams.”

His interest in education comes from two passions: gifted education and world language instruction, two things which transformed his own educational experience. For Kavi, gifted education in his middle school magnet program entailed applied, hands-on work that he remembers as being especially engaging. His world language education–years and year of German–didn’t just teach him the language, but immersed him in German politics, culture, and history. “Sometimes you didn’t even realize you were working on the language,” Kavi said of the holistic approach.

Lernfreude, a German concept which means “joy of learning,” is what Kavi describes as the pinnacle of his own educational experience and the philosophy he hopes to carry forward as an aspiring educator. “It’s about intrinsic motivation and learning because you enjoy it–the process itself is what matters,” he argued.

An aspiring high school social studies teacher, Kavi wants to work in an urban school context with at-risk students. “I’d teach social studies more holistically, and challenge my students to understand why things happened,” he said.  He is especially interested in exploring how cultural notions of intellectual giftedness have intersected with race and race relations. He hopes to draw insight from his own scholarship to help disrupt stereotypes and racialized attitudes around giftedness, and to inspire more students to believe in Lernfreude, as he does.

Meet Lauren Furst, Summer ’17 UELIP

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DCPS Office: Office of the Chief Operating Officer, Enrollment Team
Education: Rising Junior at Northwestern University
Program of Study/Major: Learning and Organizational Change
Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland

I have always loved education but never really wanted to be a teacher. UELIP was the perfect program to get to experience education work from a district level and learn new skills.

I am working on expanding the marketing side of the enrollment team. There is currently no oversight over how schools market themselves and because of that there is a large variety in the quality and quantity of schools’ marketing suites. I surveyed all 115 schools to create an inventory of all of the marketing materials that currently exist and am now using that information to create a system to help schools with their marketing materials moving forward.

My day is different every time I come into the office. Part of my responsibility is answering questions from parents and schools about enrollment and ensuring they have all the resources they need to enroll. I am also helping with the Enrollment Enhancement which is a new initiative to help schools get more resources to help with enrollment, such as money for events and enrollment incentives. I help send out e-blasts to schools about upcoming enrollment events and have worked on getting all the schools involved new marketing materials.

This internship has really shown me that there are so many different types of jobs in the world of education. I know that I really want to be able to work with other people directly because I love my team and they have really made my UELIP experience so great.

The most rewarding part of my job is getting to help the families and the school staff directly. When a family finally gets to enroll their child, it is very exciting for them and I am so happy I get to help them through this process. I love talking to the staff at the school because enrollment is such a tedious and difficult process and it is really nice to get to give them positive reinforcement because they really are doing such a great job.

In Defense of Reading Fiction

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this essay belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of DCPS.

Amie_LittmanBy Amie Littman, Summer ’17 UELIP

Recently, there has been a dramatic shift in what students should be reading in the classroom, jeopardizing how much fiction students will read in ELA classrooms. The Common Core State Standards state, “in grades 6‒12, ELA programs shift the balance of texts and instructional time towards reading substantially more literary nonfiction…and other literary nonfiction that is built on informational text structures.”  While nonfiction reading is integral to learning, exposure to ample nonfiction in the ELA classroom would abolish most of students’ in-school exposure to fiction, which in turn may have adverse effects on their development.

For example, students glean empathetic tendencies as a result of reading fiction. When students come into contact with fictional characters, they are able to expand their experiences beyond what they happen to come into contact with in their daily lives. By exposing students to fiction they are able to break from their own personal bubbles and broaden their understandings of different cultures or life experiences. “[Researchers] argue that the use of images, metaphor and inner dialogue can lift people out of themselves so that they develop a sense of growing connectedness.”  From this, we see students gain profound aspects of development needed for social emotional learning from exposure to fiction, and are exposed to important professional skills by discovering how to connect to the world they live in.

This is not to say that nonfiction is not just as important for a full learning experience. There are valid arguments behind the desire for higher volume of nonfiction reading. Exposure to informational texts helps students understand concepts that will be prominent in their educational careers and beyond. Nonfiction allows students to enhance their content-area literacy, and without it students would be rid of strategies, information, and cognition that will help them further along in their lives. For instance, “reading nonfiction… allows for multiple modes of thinking, as well as smoother pathways to learning and self-efficacy, teaching students how to search out the information they are interested in learning.”

However,  nonfiction should not be the entirety of students’ reading. Currently, Common Core State Standards recommend that nonfiction texts should comprise 70 percent of students’ reading by the twelfth grade. If schools evenly distribute nonfiction reading across other core classes, such as science, social studies, and math, the 70 percent threshold would be easily met, which shows there is less of a need to make the bulk of reading in ELA classrooms consist of nonfiction readings, and ELA curriculum should allow for more flexibility.

While it is clear that Common Core’s primary goal is for students to be successful and enlightened young adults as a result of schools, the changes that have been articulated will not ultimately serve as a way to produce the finest students. The change in curriculum will inhibit students from the creative, analytic, and critical thinking they will need not only in their English classes, but their careers, too. Additionally, this change may greatly deter students from reading.

We cannot assume students read at home for leisure; their access to fiction texts in English classes requires them to exercise parts of their brains that no other class will stimulate. While nonfiction is definitely to be encouraged as a part of the curriculum, it should not be at the cost of students’ exposure to fiction.