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 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 Leah Jaffe, Summer ’17 UELIP

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By Kyle Hietala

DCPS Office: Office of Instructional Practice, IMPACT Operations Team
Education: Rising Junior at UC Berkeley
Program of Study/Major: Global Development
Hometown: Sherman Oaks, California

Even though she describes herself as “not really a data analysis person,” Leah has grown more comfortable crunching numbers and working with Excel over the course of the summer. Her project involves studying social-emotional learning (SEL) and how it can be seamlessly incorporated into professional development for teachers. She thinks SEL is important for students, since it, when done well, “creates a better overall learning environment, one in which students are more able to become kind, compassionate citizens.”

Leah is focusing on how to market and promote SEL to teachers, so they’re better equipped to implement it into their day-to-day teaching. “We need buy-in, and we need to make sure our resources make clear the connection between SEL and positive academic and life outcomes,” Leah pointed out. To get that buy-in, DCPS needs effective professional development sessions that prepare teachers to implement SEL. “As a student, I just saw PD days as early-out Tuesdays,” Leah mused about her own public high school experience. Now as an intern, she “understands the value of it more clearly.”

Leah is also examining teacher evaluations this summer. She’s studying research questions such as, “how do teachers with different types of preparation, like Fellowships, TFA, traditional preparation, etc. perform in the classrom?” She has been analyzing policy papers about using qualitative student feedback as a way to evaluate teachers. So far, she’s conflicted: “it’s great students have a voice,” she said, “but teachers sometimes point out that students can have biases.” Leah is combing through so much data that she sometimes needs to take a break to refresh herself. Her choice leisure activity? Reading an NPR article about education.

Even though she was originally interested in Latin America politics and International Relations, Leah has discovered a new passion for education and work around curriculum. “I can see myself becoming a teacher,” she concluded.

 

Meet Yael Caplan, Summer ’17 UELIP

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By Julia Weigand

DCPS Office: Office of Talent and Culture, Teacher Recruitment and Selection Team
Education: Rising Senior at University of Chicago
Program of Study/Major: Public Policy with a specialization in Education Policy, minor in Comparative Human Development
Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland

Yael Caplan, a public policy undergrad with previous internship experience in the urban school district of Chicago, has developed a keen eye for recognizing the nuances in education policy. At DCPS, Yael’s efforts focus on improving the teacher selection process. Currently, she is refining teacher preference surveys, a data-based initiative that aims to match teachers with their ideal school environments.

“The more I learn about the district, about the different pipelines for hiring and what it means to be a highly effective teacher, the more I understand the data, but, the trickier it gets,” Yael said. Examining data allows Yael to better understand the qualitative components that DCPS should be considering for its teachers during the hiring process. Discussing her project, Yael noted the nuance involved in using data to make robust conclusions, “it is important to step back and think about the questions behind the data,” she said.

Data is a clear interest of Yael’s — she worked with the Research Management Team at the Chicago school district office and is considering writing a thesis about the balance between data collection, and accountability maintenance in education research.

Like many UELIPs, Yael’s interest in education is derived from her experience as a high school tutor; however, it has been her time in Chicago that hardened her interest into a passion.  Immediately following her matriculation to the University of Chicago, Yael began tutoring kindergarten students. Her exposure to the Chicago system stood in stark contrast with the “bubble” of quality schools she had attended while growing up. Yael discovered education in the city has a myriad of problems, many stemming from racial and economic segregation and translating to inequity.

Although Yael recognizes that many schools simply lack the resources they need to succeed, she remains motivated by her belief that, when schools are “done right,” they can be momentous mechanisms of change. To make tangible changes in districts like Chicago and D.C., Yael thinks reform efforts should engage children outside the classroom. Yael emphasized the importance of incorporating academic and health services as well as early childhood education programs in reform efforts, as students benefit from the connectivity between community, family, and classroom.

After college, Yael wants to work for a think tank or research organization that focuses on children’s welfare and education. Longer term, Yael hopes to attend law school to deepen her skill set as an advocate for equity in education

Meet Carrie Grace Henderson, Summer ’17 UELIP

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DCPS Office: Office of College and Career Programs
Education: Rising Senior at LSU
Program of Study/Major: Mass Communication and History
Hometown: Orange, Texas

The UELIP program combines my love of D.C. with my desire to learn more about what it takes to provide children with a quality education. Over the summer, my team wants to create a financial aid curriculum for students and parents to help them navigate the financial aid process.

There are so many different forms and deadlines, and the process can seem overwhelming. We want to do everything we can to help DCPS students get through it. The FAFSA, the DC TAG and outside scholarships can all make a huge financial difference, and we don’t want anyone to miss out on college because the financial aid process was too daunting.

I spend most of my day researching best practices for financial aid guidance and compiling that research into PowerPoints and lesson plans to be used in the future. But I also do a lot of support work like data entry. I’ve certainly learned a lot about financial aid. But I’ve had a crash course in distilling loads of information into something people can (and want to) understand! I like knowing that eventually, the work I’m doing now is going to help actual DCPS students afford college.

Meet Tessa Dean, Summer ’17 UELIP

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DCPS Office: Office of Chief of Schools, Student Academic and Athletic Support
Education: Rising Senior at Virginia Tech
Program of Study/Major: Psychology and Philosophy; Minor in Integrated Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics
Hometown: McLean, Virginia

I applied for the UELIP program after working with underprivileged children and their families in the DC area. I quickly uncovered that the people I met faced major barriers, most which were too long-standing for me to make an impact, despite my wanting desperately to help. I knew that limited education and negative life experiences were heavily correlated. It was from there that I decided to investigate the education system and learn how to better support less privileged students. I figured that being a part of one of the most innovative and proactive urban schooling districts would be a good place to start, which is how I landed here!

My project consists of analyzing the DCPS Credit Recovery and Twilight programs. These programs allow students to recover credits which are required for graduation eligibility. Right now I am looking at trends over the last few years, investigating successes and failures according to each school involved, and brainstorming ideas for improvement. I am referencing credit recovery programs all over the nation that have been proven successful. I enjoy my project because it allows me to tie in my knowledge on psychology and building trusting relationships, which in turn facilitates student buy in, increasing curriculum retention and graduation rates.

Typically, I am working on a few small projects at once. I like to switch off between tasks, because it allows me to take a step back, and perhaps look at the challenge from a different perspective. I am either emailing other teams about specific data, pulling data from our online database, reading articles about credit recovery, attending meetings, or doing other small tasks here and there. Right now I am working on a data wall, which will creatively showcase all of the data I have been analyzing. My supervisor and I are excited to see the final product.

I have never been gifted in math or science, so when I was giving the daunting tasks of using Excel and pulling data I was overwhelmed. However, I decided to approach the challenge head on, and I am so glad I did! I feel like a more well-rounded individual. It is great to be proficient in one subject, but I feel much more confident in myself knowing that I was able to learn something that I am generally not comfortable with. Although my bubble is comfortable, it is an enriching experience to step outside and see what opportunities there are for me.

Meet Essam LaBoone, Summer ’17 UELIP

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DCPS Office: 
Office of Talent and Culture, Teacher Recruitment and Selection
Education: Rising Sophomore at North Carolina Central University
Program of Study/Major: Education, Comprehensive Social Studies concentration
Hometown: Blacksburg, Virginia

“The 10th floor is the best floor to be at,” says Essam of his experience with the Office of Talent and Culture. This summer, he is working to expand DCPS hiring strategies by helping to research virtual hiring fairs. He thinks that his work could “revolutionize the way we do hiring, since virtual hiring fairs will enable DCPS to cast a broader geographic net.” Additionally, Essam is working on developing an informational guide about living in the District for new hires to make their transitions easier.

Being on the hiring side of teaching has been useful for Essam, because he aspires to teach high school social studies, though he’s learned that there are practical advantages to teaching higher-need content areas, like science and math. “I’ve gotten advice to get certification in different subjects,” he said. And since he still has three years of college left, he’s confident that he has plenty of time to broaden his interests and develop himself.

Essam found inspiration for a career in teaching from doing Taekwando as a kid. Even though he’s a 2nd degree black belt, he thinks the beauty of the martial art is that “it doesn’t matter what belt you have in terms of teaching.” That’s because “if you have a yellow belt or above, you have to teach the lower belts.” This experience and philosophy of teaching has shaped Essam’s own views. “You get a sense of helping people combat challenges, which strengthens your own understanding of content,” he said. His favorite thing about teaching, and what he hopes to do for his future students, is to guide them to the “OH, AHA!” moments of realization, when something just “clicks.”