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.”

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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.