Tuesday, February 25, 2014

From Colorado to DC, Learning About Education Means Stepping Outside the Classroom

I was born and raised in FortCollins, Colorado, across the country, seventeen hundred miles away from DC. My childhood was lived on a college campus. My dad is a college professor. I went to preschool on campus, spent school holidays in lecture halls and learned how to organize engineering exams as soon as I learned the alphabet by laying in the living room with hundreds of papers surrounding my dad, sister and I…alphabetically by last name, and then first.
The importance of education has always been a huge part of my life, it was assumed early on that I would attend and finish college, and it was this way with most of the people that attended grade school to high school with me. The dropout rate of the school district I attended was only approximately 4.1%.
This is an exceptional statistic that does not mirror the rest of the country, or even state. I started to get into journalism in High School because it let me explore out of the bubble in which I was living. The bubble in which education was the norm, middle-income peers were all around me and tree-and- flower beds lined most streets. While writing on my high school newspaper, I finally had a reason to explore past all this, to tell stories behind what most see. Everyone has a story, and most don’t get told.
          One of these stories I learned through writing is that the city I thought I knew so well, had a second face that was rarely talked about. According to the 2009 census, over 25% of Fort Collins residents live below poverty line. It took me until I was 18 years old to learn that statistic, and many live in Fort Collins their whole lives without truly understanding the challenging aspects of the town. Sure there are great organizations working to help families struggling, but public awareness of the poverty level seems virtually absent.
      I then went to college in Fort Collins for Communication Studies and I made it a goal that I would use the writing, digital media and outreach skills I was learning in the classroom, out of the classroom to help those that need a voice. When my dad started a project in DC for work, it was astounding to me to learn that our nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. had the highest rate of high school dropouts in the nation, at almost 60%. And, in all the media coverage of the area, political news overwhelms public perception about the area and the education and poverty levels aren’t given close to enough national attention. It didn’t seem right to me.
         I had a hard time focusing in my classes on just textbook work. I would write all my papers on literacy in America, dropout rates around the nation, and economic disparities around me. National Public Radio did an extensive series on how the economy is affected by just this. The series originated with WAMU, the leading public radio station in the greater Washington, DC area by education and poverty Special Correspondent Kavitha Cardoza. Her article "Adding Up The Cost Of Low Literacy Among Adults"  drew me to The Hope. Her story later became a full documentary series called "Breaking Ground".
        I decided it was time I take a break from schooling and further understand my passion for community development and education communication. I learned about Academy of Hope through the NPR piece. I now am working on putting students and teachers stories on the blog, social media coverage, data input and anything else AoH needs help with. I am truly excited and humbled to be able to learn about such an amazing organization that is giving students their own voice, to tell their own story, everyday.

- Mary Willson, Communication and Data Intern 

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