Yelling Across the Green

April 24, 2012 posted by Natalie Gould

Natalie Gould is StudentsFirst Campus Director at University of Pennsylvania where she is a sophomore studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and Urban Education. She tutors students in West Philadelphia, is a tour guide, and co-founded Penn Students for Students, an organization dedicated to making change in the field of education.
"Every 26 seconds, an American high school students becomes an American drop out. Do you have 26 seconds to help transform public education?" Yelling this fact across the Green is one of my favorite parts about being a Campus Director for StudentsFirst at the University of Pennsylvania. Do most people keep walking to class? Yes. But sometimes, students stop, and we have a conversation about initiatives needed to fix the country's education system. I love these interactions with random Penn community members because they remind me that young people have strong voices - we are hungry to change the world.
College students hold a unique stake in the education reform movement. We are both the most recent products of the public school system and its future parents, teachers, and administrators. It is crucial that this specific population understand the crisis occurring in America’s schools as well as what initiatives are being proposed to solve it.
Education Week at the University of Pennsylvania – a series of three events put on by StudentsFirst, Penn Education Society, and Teach for America -- was intended to give students a broad overview of the state of education and current reform efforts. The first two events, a presentation by TFA representative and a panel discussion on perspectives in education reform, revealed to students the importance of transforming schools. George Parker, former President of the D.C. Teachers Union and one of our panelists emphasized this point, stating, "The public education system is the only way we can ensure that everyone, regardless of race, class, religion, can claim their right to an education." Despite coming from different educational backgrounds, the panelists agreed on the importance of conversation surrounding the issues of reform. They warned students to not get trapped in political labels and monolithic groups. Rather, they suggested learning as much as possible from those with whom you disagree.
When planning the events, we felt it was important that Education Week not merely provide students with dire statistics and rhetoric from reform leaders but actually inspire change. The third event centered around ways college students could engage in the reform movement. This workshop brought together student leaders to facilitate conversations about their involvement in education and their suggestions for peers looking to do the same. Allyson Even, a board member of two tutoring organizations on campus, spoke about Penn’s unique culture of social responsibility. "This school is so special," she said, "because it provides so many opportunities to get involved with the greater community." There were many ways for students to get involved including volunteering in local public schools, contacting political representatives, and  education-focused internships. 
In addition, the presenters echoed the previous night’s panelists, stressing that the most important thing a student could do is to stay informed. They urged their audience to read about education in both the local and national arena, and to continue having conversations with their classmates, friends and family members.

Despite the success of Education Week, it can only be considered the beginning of the conversations that need to be occurring on college campuses about education. All three events left participants with a clear message: keep talking.
This year, a chat with a friend about public schools led me to StudentsFirst.org. Since then, I have become involved with the reform movement by becoming one of the organization’s Campus Directors. This job allows me to encourage discussion at my college by planning events and recruiting members. It is only through a large, broad-based movement that our country will put into place the changes necessary to transform our schools.  So now I yell on the Green the same question someone once asked me, "Hey, are you interested in education?"
StudentsFirst is now taking applications for Campus Directors for the 2012-13 school year.  If you’re interested in raising awareness on your campus and inspiring your classmates to take action to improve our schools, apply now!
Applications are due June 15th, 2012.