Students for a Better World: The Beyond the Classroom Blog

Stories, Resources, & More from the Beyond the Classroom (BTC) Program at University of Maryland

Converging Issues: Education and Rural Poverty

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Editor’s Note: Beyond the Classroom encourages program participants to identify civic issues that are most important to them.  Through activities, lectures, films, seminars, classes, events, and internships, students learn how they can address those issues through civic engagement, advocacy, and action.  This post is the first in a new series “Converging Issues,” which are blogs that examine these issues from a student perspective – including what inspired them to get involved, how BTC encouraged them to take their learning to the next step, and how they have become involved in addressing their civic issue.

The author, posing by a picture she painted in a boy’s bathroom on her Alternative Break trip to Gaston, North Carolina.

by Anne Regan, BTC Student

When I was in the first grade, I decided I wanted to be a teacher after showing one of my sisters how to write her name. She was so proud of herself and went around making her mark on every windowsill in the house with a brown crayon. You can still see her name at a few of the windows to this day. Over the next twelve years she became increasingly interested in art and architecture and I became increasingly interested in teaching. As I applied for colleges and people started to ask me what I planned on majoring in I got mixed reactions. Most people were excited for me, but then there were the others who told me I was too smart to be a “glorified babysitter.” Harsh comments like these inspire me to be a better person and a better teacher because, as corny as it sounds, children are the future. For that reason, everyone should be heavily invested in building stronger, better informed teachers. I take every opportunity I can to broaden my perspective of the world so that I will be well prepared for when I graduate and set out to change the world through education.

I joined Beyond the Classroom because of the focus on civic engagement and social change. Education is something that is affected by everything and at the same time effects everything, so therefore, I want to know a little bit about everything. BTC was a good place to look for a taste of everything because of the diversity of topics discussed and unique people in the classes. Constantly talking about world problems and potential solutions reminds me to think outside of Prince George’s County Public Schools and the American Public School System in general. There are an infinite number of ways to be educated.

In further search of perspective, I decided to go on an Alternative Winter Break trip where I would have the opportunity to intern at a KIPP Charter School in poor, rural Gaston, North Carolina. KIPP students go to school 65% more than students in public school and since Gaston is such a remote rural area, some students have a two hour commute to and from school each day. This means that some students wake up at five, get on the bus at six, get to school at eight, leave school at five, and get home at seven, but that is only if they don’t participate in after school sports. One high school senior explained to me how he usually gets home around ten every night and then has to start his homework, but that it was all worth it because he could have a positive future. He plans to be the first person in his family to graduate from college and dreams of being a chemical engineer.

A Great Gatsby bulletin board that Regan and the other students on her Alternative Winter Breaks trip completed for an 11th grade teacher. According to the Gaston County Schools website, high school graduation rates have gone up, but nearly 25% of students dropped out of high school last year in Gaston.

During the course of this trip, our group challenged KIPP’s philosophy of education and discussed the future of the public schooling. Since KIPP opened in Gaston eleven years ago, so many students have been taken out of mainstream schooling that several public schools have been forced to shut down. The charter schools seem to be working. Will they eventually replace public schools all together? Will every child in the United States have the opportunity to attend a quality school with invested teachers? A lottery currently determines which lucky students get to attend charter schools. While this is great for the students who have devoted, motivated parents who work to get them into the lottery, what happens to the students whose parents do not put a high value on education and don’t push their children academically? How can the United States change education policy to facilitate learning in every single child? No one has the answer to these questions yet, but the outlook is not as hopeless as some would make it seem. Schools like KIPP, dedicated to changing the face of education by providing a solid school with high expectations for students who live in impoverished areas with poor school systems, are making great strides.

When parents, teachers, and students all buy into the values of education, the rest of the community joins in, creating the social change the United States needs to stay competitive in the global economy. I know that I will be able to continue exploring these problems with civic engagement and social justice with Beyond the Classroom. There are always new ways of gaining insight and unique ideas for change. It is my hope that the American education system will change drastically in my lifetime and that if I have anything to do with it the changes I make will have been inspired chiefly through the variety of experiences I’ve had in college, including BTC and Alternative Breaks.

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Edited by Dr. Caitlin Haugen, Assistant Director, Beyond the Classroom
Special thanks to Anne Regan for being the first author in this series, for providing the photos, and for sharing her experiences.

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Author: btcblogger

Beyond the Classroom (BTC) engages talented and diverse upper level undergraduates from across the university in a selective interdisciplinary living and learning community focused on civic engagement and social change in a global context. The BTC program prepares students to be active and responsible citizens and leaders in a complex, multi-cultural, and global society. We encourage students from all disciplines and majors to realize and develop their potential through an integrated program of academic, experiential, and service components. The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the world’s largest nonprofit and nongovernmental sector, becomes a place of learning through exciting internships and civic learning experiences.

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