Where Are They Now? Meet EPOL Alumna Emily Neff. | Education Policy & Social Analysis

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Education Policy & Social Analysis

Where Are They Now? EPOL alumni after graduation--Meet Emily Neff, Education Policy, M.A. 2016.

Emily Neff matriculated the Education Policy Program with 2014 Cohort. After being accepted to the program, she took advantage of starting earlier, in summer of that year. She graduated in May 2016. She has spread her program of studies throughout 6 semesters, taking classes in summers, falls, and springs. During the first fall semester she took four courses but then she slowed down in order to take advantage of a great professional opportunity outside Teachers College. She wanted to gain professional experience as well as build the best networking system that would help her maneuver the career path. So far, it seems she is succeeding in everything she does and her choices can serve as a great example to all EPOL students. Learn more about Emily from the interview below:

1.     Please tell us a little about your education background and professional experience before you arrived at the Education Policy Program at the EPSA Department, Teachers College, Columbia University?

I attended Allegheny College, a small, liberal arts school in Meadville, Pennsylvania for my undergraduate education. Through my minor in Values, Ethics, and Social Action (VESA), I discovered my passion for education and social justice by participating in service learning courses. The experience that I attribute to changing my trajectory was working at an alternative education home. Middle school and high school aged students were placed in this inadequate, alternative setting because they had been suspended from school for an extended period of time. Listening to their stories increased my awareness of the discipline problems in education and the crisis of the school to prison pipeline. In addition to working with students during the school year, I was an assistant teacher for a summer camp for children with ADHD and autism. The VESA minor equipped me with the skills to consciously reflect and critically think about social problems. After I graduated in 2012, I moved to Mississippi to teach first grade at Hazlehurst Elementary through Teach For America. Teaching and building relationships with students and families taught me the importance of perspective, critical reflection, and empathy. My students and their families ignited a strong sense of social responsibility in me to pursue the practice of policy. While I enjoyed being a teacher and a member of the Hazlehurst community, I was interested in digging deeper into the systemic issues that impacted my students and other students across the country. As I navigate the work of policy and advocacy, I continue to think about my former students and their families in Mississippi because they are the reason I want to be in education.

2.     What attracted you to our program?

I applied to both education policy and public policy programs in Pittsburgh, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. Ultimately, what made me choose TC was the focus on education policy and social analysis. I remember a current student reaching out to me by email and being very helpful in answering my questions of the courses that were offered. She told me about the School Law Institute course (which ended up being the first class I took at TC) and the choices of specialization. I was excited to connect with peers and professors across disciplines of politics, sociology, and economics about issues facing students, teachers, families and communities.

3.     While at the EPOL program, how did you organize your program of studies? Which specialization did you choose?

Throughout my two years, I took courses that touched on early childhood, K-12, and law. Initially, I had the intention of specializing in Law and Education, however, as I began to get deeper into my studies I ended up focusing on the K-12 specialization. In my first two semesters, I felt it was important to take Data Analysis I and II to develop my quantitative analysis skills. During my first year, I also took Politics and Public Policy and Craft of Policy Analysis. These courses provided me with a foundation for how to navigate the policy field. Another important aspect of the program is to take the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with the people you are surrounded by at TC; some of the most formative conversations that challenged the way I thought about certain issues happened over a coffee or beer.

4.     During your course of study, you worked at the DOE. Explain your job and how you found it?

I was fortunate enough to be connected with the Superintendent for District 1 by a fellow TC student. The Family Support Coordinator (FSC) position had just been created as a part of the new framework for great schools model. The most clearly defined part of my role was to review and respond to 311 calls. I was the first point of contact for the superintendent when a family escalated a problem from the school to the district office. As an FSC, it was critical to thoughtfully listen and respond with care. I worked with families to understand NYC school policies or to mediate an issue between a family and the school principal.

Another part of my role included collaborating with community members on the planning of the Socio-economic Integration Pilot Program (SIPP) grant.  When I took on the FSC role, District 1 had just been awarded the SIPP grant and the community was pursuing integration efforts. I participated as a member of the Family Resource Center work group. We visited other family centers in Cambridge and Brockton, MA to see how they were supporting school integration through controlled choice. We also created and distributed a community survey for District 1 families to share their enrollment experiences and what they wanted in a district Family Resource Center. While it was challenging to balance work and school, I am glad I had the opportunity to collaborate with the community and get a better understanding of the NYC school system. It was a difficult decision to leave the D1 community, however, the passion to improve their own community is what encouraged me to return to my hometown of Pittsburgh.

5.     Was the culminating paper or other coursework helpful to your appointment as a Coro Fellow? Did you mention these experiences during the application process?

My culminating project focused on a Pittsburgh school closure and consolidation process that was underway in the 2015-2016 school year. The Wilkinsburg High School announced it would be closing and consolidating with Westinghouse High School in the Pittsburgh community of Homewood. Pittsburgh has a history of school closures that have disproportionately impacted low-income African-American communities. My culminating paper focused on the contributing factors to school closures and consolidations in the Pittsburgh area, how issues of race and class are discussed (or not discussed) in the process, the role of formal evidence in making the decision, and the level of family and community engagement.  Coro has a partnership with Wilkinsburg and Homewood so I did speak about my CP in the application process. Now as part of the group consulting project, I am working with a nonprofit in Homewood and students in Westinghouse.

6.     As a Coro Fellow[1], you will have placements in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Where do you work now? Can you tell us about the projects you work on?

Currently, I am placed at the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) on the policy and advocacy team.  PAEYC is a non-profit that works to elevate the voice of early childhood education and care through policy and advocacy, community engagement, and quality initiatives in 10 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties. I will be there for three of my four Coro placement cycles. During the first cycle, my projects included voter registration and engagement around early childhood education issues, a draft timeline of activities to accompany the public policy agenda, and research on the expansion of pre-K in U.S. cities. As part of the policy team, I attended a Pennsylvania AEYC meeting in Harrisburg and sat in on numerous phone calls for Pre-K for PA and Early Learning PA campaigns. The second cycle is underway and thus far my favorite experiences have been going on tours of child care centers with state legislators. This provides the opportunity for early childhood educators to speak with their state representatives about the importance of early education and how the budget impacts their ability to provide quality care.

In addition to my individual placement at PAEYC, I participate on a group consulting project and attend weekly seminars with 11 other Coro Fellows. Every Monday we meet for seminar facilitated by a Coro staff member. The purpose of seminar is to discuss leadership challenges we face at our placements through exercises such as peer consulting. It is an incredible way to learn about the city of Pittsburgh and make connections with community leaders. For example, we have met with city councilpersons to gain insight and advice from their leadership experiences. Also, we are collaborating with an educational non-profit to support an after-school program for scholars at a Pittsburgh high school.

(Emily has now completed her fellowship at Coro and was hired by the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children as a Public Policy Associate.)

7.     What are the most useful skills you learned while at TC?

My classes, professors, and peers from TC have provided me with the tools to navigate the policy field. I consider the most useful skills I gained through TC courses to be data analysis, policy memo writing, how to identify a problem and offer researched and evidence-based solutions, and how to frame an argument. In my previous work as a Family Support Coordinator in NYC and in my current role as a policy fellow, I often look for a window of opportunity and think about how to identify a problem and offer solutions. Additionally, two useful skills I learned from my peers are how to ask critical questions with the intention of improving an organization, institution, or policy and how to engage in challenging and thought-provoking conversations. I have utilized the skills I gained at TC on a daily basis in my fellowship through memo writing, researching policies, and engaging in critically conscious dialogue.

8.     What, in your opinion, is the most pressing issue relating to education policy?

In my opinion, the root problem for many education issues is inequity based on race, class, and location. We need to be mindful of the language we use when describing the inequity and prescribing the solutions for it. I believe there needs to be a shift away from the term “achievement” gap to a more apt description such as “opportunity” or “resource” gap.  Then policy needs to be created to address the inequity by providing better resources and more opportunities for underserved students and families. Three policies that I hope to see pursued on a local, state, and federal level to address educational inequity are the expansion of access to high-quality early learning programs (birth-age 5), diversity conscious enrollment policies that lead to school integration, and comprehensive community schools that utilize the assets of the surrounding neighborhood.

 

 

 



[1] Learn more about Coro Fellows at http://www.corofellowship.org/. The Coro Fellowship Application deadline is January 18, 2017. Please contact Shana Love, the national recruiter, at slove@coronorcal.org, with any questions about this fellowship. 

Published Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016

Where Are They Now? EPOL alumni after graduation--Meet Emily Neff, Education Policy, M.A. 2016.

Emily Neff matriculated the Education Policy Program with 2014 Cohort. After being accepted to the program, she took advantage of starting earlier, in summer of that year. She graduated in May 2016. She has spread her program of studies throughout 6 semesters, taking classes in summers, falls, and springs. During the first fall semester she took four courses but then she slowed down in order to take advantage of a great professional opportunity outside Teachers College. She wanted to gain professional experience as well as build the best networking system that would help her maneuver the career path. So far, it seems she is succeeding in everything she does and her choices can serve as a great example to all EPOL students. Learn more about Emily from the interview below:

1.     Please tell us a little about your education background and professional experience before you arrived at the Education Policy Program at the EPSA Department, Teachers College, Columbia University?

I attended Allegheny College, a small, liberal arts school in Meadville, Pennsylvania for my undergraduate education. Through my minor in Values, Ethics, and Social Action (VESA), I discovered my passion for education and social justice by participating in service learning courses. The experience that I attribute to changing my trajectory was working at an alternative education home. Middle school and high school aged students were placed in this inadequate, alternative setting because they had been suspended from school for an extended period of time. Listening to their stories increased my awareness of the discipline problems in education and the crisis of the school to prison pipeline. In addition to working with students during the school year, I was an assistant teacher for a summer camp for children with ADHD and autism. The VESA minor equipped me with the skills to consciously reflect and critically think about social problems. After I graduated in 2012, I moved to Mississippi to teach first grade at Hazlehurst Elementary through Teach For America. Teaching and building relationships with students and families taught me the importance of perspective, critical reflection, and empathy. My students and their families ignited a strong sense of social responsibility in me to pursue the practice of policy. While I enjoyed being a teacher and a member of the Hazlehurst community, I was interested in digging deeper into the systemic issues that impacted my students and other students across the country. As I navigate the work of policy and advocacy, I continue to think about my former students and their families in Mississippi because they are the reason I want to be in education.

2.     What attracted you to our program?

I applied to both education policy and public policy programs in Pittsburgh, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. Ultimately, what made me choose TC was the focus on education policy and social analysis. I remember a current student reaching out to me by email and being very helpful in answering my questions of the courses that were offered. She told me about the School Law Institute course (which ended up being the first class I took at TC) and the choices of specialization. I was excited to connect with peers and professors across disciplines of politics, sociology, and economics about issues facing students, teachers, families and communities.

3.     While at the EPOL program, how did you organize your program of studies? Which specialization did you choose?

Throughout my two years, I took courses that touched on early childhood, K-12, and law. Initially, I had the intention of specializing in Law and Education, however, as I began to get deeper into my studies I ended up focusing on the K-12 specialization. In my first two semesters, I felt it was important to take Data Analysis I and II to develop my quantitative analysis skills. During my first year, I also took Politics and Public Policy and Craft of Policy Analysis. These courses provided me with a foundation for how to navigate the policy field. Another important aspect of the program is to take the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with the people you are surrounded by at TC; some of the most formative conversations that challenged the way I thought about certain issues happened over a coffee or beer.

4.     During your course of study, you worked at the DOE. Explain your job and how you found it?

I was fortunate enough to be connected with the Superintendent for District 1 by a fellow TC student. The Family Support Coordinator (FSC) position had just been created as a part of the new framework for great schools model. The most clearly defined part of my role was to review and respond to 311 calls. I was the first point of contact for the superintendent when a family escalated a problem from the school to the district office. As an FSC, it was critical to thoughtfully listen and respond with care. I worked with families to understand NYC school policies or to mediate an issue between a family and the school principal.

Another part of my role included collaborating with community members on the planning of the Socio-economic Integration Pilot Program (SIPP) grant.  When I took on the FSC role, District 1 had just been awarded the SIPP grant and the community was pursuing integration efforts. I participated as a member of the Family Resource Center work group. We visited other family centers in Cambridge and Brockton, MA to see how they were supporting school integration through controlled choice. We also created and distributed a community survey for District 1 families to share their enrollment experiences and what they wanted in a district Family Resource Center. While it was challenging to balance work and school, I am glad I had the opportunity to collaborate with the community and get a better understanding of the NYC school system. It was a difficult decision to leave the D1 community, however, the passion to improve their own community is what encouraged me to return to my hometown of Pittsburgh.

5.     Was the culminating paper or other coursework helpful to your appointment as a Coro Fellow? Did you mention these experiences during the application process?

My culminating project focused on a Pittsburgh school closure and consolidation process that was underway in the 2015-2016 school year. The Wilkinsburg High School announced it would be closing and consolidating with Westinghouse High School in the Pittsburgh community of Homewood. Pittsburgh has a history of school closures that have disproportionately impacted low-income African-American communities. My culminating paper focused on the contributing factors to school closures and consolidations in the Pittsburgh area, how issues of race and class are discussed (or not discussed) in the process, the role of formal evidence in making the decision, and the level of family and community engagement.  Coro has a partnership with Wilkinsburg and Homewood so I did speak about my CP in the application process. Now as part of the group consulting project, I am working with a nonprofit in Homewood and students in Westinghouse.

6.     As a Coro Fellow[1], you will have placements in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Where do you work now? Can you tell us about the projects you work on?

Currently, I am placed at the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) on the policy and advocacy team.  PAEYC is a non-profit that works to elevate the voice of early childhood education and care through policy and advocacy, community engagement, and quality initiatives in 10 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties. I will be there for three of my four Coro placement cycles. During the first cycle, my projects included voter registration and engagement around early childhood education issues, a draft timeline of activities to accompany the public policy agenda, and research on the expansion of pre-K in U.S. cities. As part of the policy team, I attended a Pennsylvania AEYC meeting in Harrisburg and sat in on numerous phone calls for Pre-K for PA and Early Learning PA campaigns. The second cycle is underway and thus far my favorite experiences have been going on tours of child care centers with state legislators. This provides the opportunity for early childhood educators to speak with their state representatives about the importance of early education and how the budget impacts their ability to provide quality care.

In addition to my individual placement at PAEYC, I participate on a group consulting project and attend weekly seminars with 11 other Coro Fellows. Every Monday we meet for seminar facilitated by a Coro staff member. The purpose of seminar is to discuss leadership challenges we face at our placements through exercises such as peer consulting. It is an incredible way to learn about the city of Pittsburgh and make connections with community leaders. For example, we have met with city councilpersons to gain insight and advice from their leadership experiences. Also, we are collaborating with an educational non-profit to support an after-school program for scholars at a Pittsburgh high school.

(Emily has now completed her fellowship at Coro and was hired by the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children as a Public Policy Associate.)

7.     What are the most useful skills you learned while at TC?

My classes, professors, and peers from TC have provided me with the tools to navigate the policy field. I consider the most useful skills I gained through TC courses to be data analysis, policy memo writing, how to identify a problem and offer researched and evidence-based solutions, and how to frame an argument. In my previous work as a Family Support Coordinator in NYC and in my current role as a policy fellow, I often look for a window of opportunity and think about how to identify a problem and offer solutions. Additionally, two useful skills I learned from my peers are how to ask critical questions with the intention of improving an organization, institution, or policy and how to engage in challenging and thought-provoking conversations. I have utilized the skills I gained at TC on a daily basis in my fellowship through memo writing, researching policies, and engaging in critically conscious dialogue.

8.     What, in your opinion, is the most pressing issue relating to education policy?

In my opinion, the root problem for many education issues is inequity based on race, class, and location. We need to be mindful of the language we use when describing the inequity and prescribing the solutions for it. I believe there needs to be a shift away from the term “achievement” gap to a more apt description such as “opportunity” or “resource” gap.  Then policy needs to be created to address the inequity by providing better resources and more opportunities for underserved students and families. Three policies that I hope to see pursued on a local, state, and federal level to address educational inequity are the expansion of access to high-quality early learning programs (birth-age 5), diversity conscious enrollment policies that lead to school integration, and comprehensive community schools that utilize the assets of the surrounding neighborhood.

 

 

 



[1] Learn more about Coro Fellows at http://www.corofellowship.org/. The Coro Fellowship Application deadline is January 18, 2017. Please contact Shana Love, the national recruiter, at slove@coronorcal.org, with any questions about this fellowship. 

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