Education for Now, Policy for the Future: A Look at the Education Policy Fellows Making a Difference in Our State
Caleb M. Herod (‘12), Project Manager of Extended Learning Initiatives at Delta Health Alliance
What was your experience as a corps member, and now as an alum? Teaching at West Tallahatchie High School made me a better person and citizen. I worked daily with people who did everything in their power to make sure each child they taught had their best shot at lifelong success. As a TFA alum I’ve worked in communities across Mississippi with school leaders, parents, students, and concerned citizens to create opportunities for sustained positive change in the Delta. My experience has not always been easy, but being surrounded and supported by good people keeps me going.
What are your aspirations? My short term is to go to graduate school, gain a better research and public policy skill set, and become a better leader for health and education policy in Mississippi. I believe a graduate degree in public policy/administration would really build on the experience I’ve gained working in the field the past few years. Long term I want to help lead communities where every citizen’s voice is heard and every child is confident they will be supported. Teach for America showed me my experience growing up with a supportive community and system surrounding me was not the norm. I owe it to the kids I taught and the people who encourage me to make it the new normal.
Elizabeth “Biz” Wilson Harris (‘05), Engagement and Communications Director at the Tallahatchie River Foundation.
What has been your experience with Teach For America? As a corps member, I saw the disparity between the education I received in a more affluent community in south Mississippi and the ones my students were receiving in the Delta. I was angry to see what a large role race and class had in creating that disparity. I love my home state, but am also frustrated by it, so began to think about what it would take to mobilize large groups of people on behalf of students to the tide toward equity in Mississippi. As an alumna, I've been proud of the work my TFA friends have done in and around the state for children. To that end, I've worked to connect my fellow alumni to this place and to other alums and native Mississippians doing great work with hopes that they will find their own place here and become a part of turning the tide.
How did you learn about this program? A long-time friend of mine did the EPFP program last year and now assists with the fellowship. We like to talk Education Policy. She came to visit last year and was telling me about the meetings, her trip to the Capitol, and how much she was getting out of it. It sounded like an experience that I wanted and a great way to network with other people in Mississippi who care about creating a quality educational system for students.
What are your long-term aspirations? I have a 3-year-old, a newborn, and also worked with a few truly excellent PreK teachers when I worked on TFA staff. These experiences made me passionate about high quality early childhood development and education since it sets the stage for the rest of a child's future. I am currently working with Tallahatchie River Foundation and several other Early Childhood Education organizations to launch a state-wide campaign promoting policies to ensure students thrive by 3rd grade. Even before I began my current role, it has been my aspiration to build an army of Mississippians advocating for our state's youngest children and equipping everyone involved in their growth and development - from parents to teachers to doctors - with the knowledge and skills to lay the highest quality foundation for their future.
Cody Shumaker (‘08), Principal at Parks Elementary School in Cleveland, Mississippi
What was your corps experience like? I had a wonderful corps member experience. I taught high school social studies at Broad Street High in Shelby, and I worked in the same building as several other corps members.We were able to work collaboratively and discuss the needs of our students to better understand how to help guide and grow them as learners and people.
What’s been your experience as an alum? I’ve been focused on my advancement in order to impact the lives of the teachers and students I work with daily. I’ve tried to stay connected to TFA and have done a better job of it the longer I’ve been out of the corps.
What’s next? I plan on staying in education administration. I’m leaving all avenues open when it comes to the work I will do for kids.
Stephanie Parkinson (‘08), Regional Designer at Teach For America-Mississippi
In short, what was your experience as a corps member? That time really pushed me to see the different sides of education, and that’s what I mean when I tell people I learned a lot. I always liked school, but the opportunities I had to learn about other people’s experience in the public school system came later. I learned so much more about those different perspective and the sectors of education as a corps member. I worked with parents who, for instance, had to maneuver through different work schedules. That didn’t mean that they didn’t care about their children’s education, it just meant that we had to be creative about how we worked together.
And as an alum? I’m surrounded in this state by incredible people who are so passionate about Mississippi and education. If you want to make a difference, there’s a space for you. That’s what I’ve learned.
How does this program fit into your long-term goals? Personally, as a parent, I am very invested in our public education system and being an advocate for its success. And professionally, I think this fellowship is helping guide my thinking beyond tomorrow. Who are the movers and shakers in our state? Who else is working with our school systems? There are great things happening in Mississippi, but how can I be a part of greater collaboration across the state?