By: Margaret Borden | Math Teacher, Knightdale High School
“Mrs. Borden, I know I want to study schools, but there are so many variables to choose from, how in the world will I narrow this down in time?” – Kiara Bush, May 17, AP Statistics class
Since February, Kiara had been talking about how she wanted to learn more about school perception and what affects school performance, even though the project was not set to begin until after the AP exam in May. She kept noticing the Twitter feed and reviews on our school’s website, and just didn’t feel that these opinions fairly represented the school from which she was earning her education. Her AP Statistics project required her to identify something that she wanted to study to better her understanding, so she was trying to figure out which variables she should focus on in her effort to understand the misrepresentations that she was reading online.
The day she approached me for help was a few days after one of my meetings with WakeEd Partnership’s Beginning Teacher Leadership Network (BTLN). At this meeting, Teresa Pierrie, WakeEd’s Director of Programs, had invited a North Carolina house representative, Representative Von Haefen, to speak to us, and then we spent thirty minutes discussing which policy we wanted to influence. Interestingly, during this meeting, I learned that school grades were a hot topic in the legislative agenda, with multiple bills on the subject, and it seemed to be the one that our group was most interested in working on. We had a BTLN Legislative Day planned for June, and my mind was racing.
So, when my student asked me which variables she should focus on, I informed her that school grade was being discussed by the legislature and that, if she were to choose to study that for her AP Statistics project, then I would be able to get her in front of a legislator to discuss her findings. Then, a few weeks later, the Legislative Day was cancelled, and I became worried. It turned out, however, that I had little to worry about. Per Teresa’s suggestion, I emailed Representative Von Haefen, asking if we could meet with her, and if she had any other suggestions as to who I should contact. She was thrilled to meet with us and told me to contact some of the Education Committee members of the House of Representatives, just a few days before we would be arriving.
I had no idea who would respond to me with such short notice, so I emailed every single member of the Education Committee (about 22 people total), hoping for one or two responses. Before I knew it, my email was flooded with appointment times, which somehow, miraculously, did not overlap. That was how we ended up with back-to-back appointments all around the legislature from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon. I am so grateful to BTLN for providing me with the confidence to reach out and the knowledge as to how to reach out and lobby our legislators.
BTLN also helped us shape our message and gave me the tools to help my student bring a stellar pitch to the legislators. Representative Von Haefen told us that legislators like to hear about data, but they like to have stories to back it up. They also like to hear stories, but they like to have numeric evidence to back them up. For this reason, Kiara studied both the correlation between school grade and teacher turnover as well as took a random sample of interviews across the school to learn what people’s experiences were with school grade and teacher turnover. She came in armed with a beautiful infographic as well as anecdotes to explain what they were seeing, and the combination managed to impress representatives from both sides of the floor.
Had it not been for BTLN, I would have had no idea that school grade was being discussed in the general assembly, I would have had no idea how to get in to go see legislators, and I would not have known that we needed both stories and numbers in order to make the best impression. Without BTLN, Kiara would have done a spectacular project on some other interesting school variables, presented it to her classmates, and then been done for the year. Because of BTLN, both Kiara and I have now experienced how to engage with our legislators, and I know we will both be continuing advocacy work in the future due to this experience.