Addie Bean-Thompson is a summer intern with Student Action with Farmworkers. She attended the forum along with other members of the Adelante Education Coalition. Here are her thoughts about the day long event. You can find out more information about the Initiative here: http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/hispanic-initiative/.
Last week I attended the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) forum at Durham Tech. I left the event feeling tired, but empowered and with an optimistic outlook on equal education opportunities. The forum brought together so many people with passionate ideas and perspectives about education reform. It brought to light many projects and programs, which are taking on equal college access issues from different angles ranging from after school programs, long term support for students and families, scholarships to support internship opportunities, college success training for groups and individuals.
Amidst all the motivation to make change, I recognized how challenging it is to create creative and concrete action steps. And that made me wonder: How will this dialog continue amongst the participants, as well as get other members of the education community involved? How will important issues and opinions, goals and challenges be shared outside of this space?
So I am writing this blog post in hope to open up a space where we can keep the conversation going and share our feedback about the WHIEEH forum.
I want to share a few things that I learned, or observed, from the opportunity to attend the forum.
The first thing that I learned about conferences in general is that it is important to look at the purpose and goal of the event in order to understand what it can best be used for. The WHIEEH event offered a great space for people to network with both familiar faces and with new colleagues, to exchange ideas and talk about program models and activities. I think this event can be used as a way to continue and further fuel a conversation that had already been going on for a long time. We can use this event as a platform to raise awareness about the work everyone is doing and gain media attention.
The second thing I observed is that when talking about education policy, there is a need to think (further) out of the box and to be more open-minded. It was repeated more than once, that policy must be based in reality. I think that this concept of reality limits creative ideas that could potentially work in the real world.
One of the DACAmented (documented through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) student panelists said that she was inspired to continue her education and that she wouldn’t give up despite set backs and struggles because “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” She was forced to be creative in order to find a pathway to college.
I was thinking about this as I listened to other panelists speak about their goals and hopes for education policy. When asked what changes he would make, if he could change anything to increase college access for [Hispanic] students, one policy panelist responded, “reform immigration laws and make universities free [for all students]!” This answer received a laugh from the audience and he continued, “but really, realistically speaking, I would create a pipeline between high schools and colleges.” I felt a bubbling feeling of frustration in my stomach at this second answer, because it didn’t seem to strive towards a new idea. If we look at other education models in the world, some of those places (many of which are passing the US in the rate of higher education graduates) do have tuition free universities. This idea of free or at least more affordable higher education is perhaps not an unrealistic goal or dream for the US, if this is what we wanted and where we wanted our budget to go. Is there a different way to think about education, other than as a consumer product?
To come back to my point, while the student follows her motto of “where there’s a will, there is a way” and thinks of creative alternatives within the broken system, policy makers are not being as innovative and thinking outside of the box, or using other models of education as possible resources.
Lastly, above all it is necessary to stay positive and look at the opportunities and possibilities that are being created through the programs that people are dedicating their hard work and time to. I realize that programs must work within the institutional structures that already exist. It is important to have such events as the WHIEEH forum in order to share success stories and learn what is working, to network with people and to notice that individual organizations or programs are not alone in this struggle to create a positive change.
I want to leave you with the following questions: What did you think of the forum? What did you learn, what did you feel inspired by, what challenges are you left with?How would you like to continue the conversation?
Let’s keep the conversation going about college access for Hispanics! You can post comments here.