During my K-12 education I attended five different schools each with unique funding sources and demographics. My experience with these diverse institutions sparked an interest in educational pedagogy and the role outside forces play in impacting academic achievement. I was consistently amazed by the similarity of instruction, but difference in academic achievement. Ultimately, these schools led me to Ohio State to study special education and nonprofit management. My interest in education stems from the role it can play in community development and strengthening my understanding of myself, others, and my world.
While attending public school I never questioned the rules and norms that were imposed on my fellow classmates and I as elementary students. However, things changed when I found myself in a new learning community at the start of 6th grade. My private middle school, Leaves of Learning, challenged my idea of what it meant to be a school. The students in my classes were not always my age, my teachers lacked education degrees, and I only attended the program for 14.5 hours a week. My experience as a student was very different from what I had become accustomed to, but nonetheless I thrived in my coursework. For the first time I was surrounded by people who always loved to be at school.
When I left Leaves of Learning to move to a wealthy Columbus suburb, Bexley, my parents were concerned that I would be behind my peers in academics. However, we quickly found that to be the opposite. At Leaves of Learning students were trusted with being responsible for themselves and classes were taught for the purpose of learning and enjoyment. High test scores were never the goal. At Bexley it was clear that the same priorities had not been stressed. My peers struggled with independent notetaking and retaining information from previous courses. My time at Leaves of Learning taught me that working smarter is better than working harder and that tradition needs to be questioned. It inspired a great interest in teaching and the role of the nonpublic sector in spearheading innovation and reform in education.
While a freshman in high school I volunteered for a local nonprofit child care and family services organization, Columbus Early Learning Centers (CELC). I later joined the team through a paid position as an office assistant. This experience challenged my ideas of what a “charity” is and should be. Up until this point in my life when I pictured nonprofits I thought of homeless shelters and food banks. I quickly found that many charities including CELC were complicated businesses with elaborate plans and overhead staff.
I consider efficiency to be one of my strongest held values. This was instilled in me by example at CELC. Helping children in the early years of development is the most efficient way to positively change a person’s life. A dollar invested in the first five years yields a rate of return of 14 to 17%. This is because a child’s brain is being built in the beginning of their life. It is much easier to build strong brains than rehab damaged ones. I have a great interest in working for youth and family causes as I know it is the most efficient and just way to help a person and a community.
My experience with these organizations instilled values of innovation and efficiency that led me to pursue a career in community development and education reform. However, what I have taken from these experiences and organizations expands beyond my academic and professional realms. The values that I have been taught by these groups have a constant presence in my interactions with myself and my world. I am grateful to have learned from a rich and diverse community that has given me the tools to be an informed, well-rounded community member.