SFER works to close achievement gap
Students for Educational Reform (SFER), a group that formed on the Hill during JanPlan, is an approved chapter of the national non-profit organization SFER dedicated to helping close the achievement gap in the American education system.
Transfer student Kareem Kalil ’13 brought the group to the College, and it was approved as an official campus club at the March 13 Student Government Association (SGA) meeting. Kalil spent the past year working 50-hour weeks in a fourth-grade classroom in Mattapan, one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, through the organization City Year.
Majoring in urban education, a self-designed program combining classes in the education, sociology and economics departments, Kalil spent this past JanPlan working on an independent project about SFER. He organized a screening on campus of the documentary The Lottery and gave a presentation on the goals of SFER. Over 100 students attended the event and signed up to get involved in SFER on the Hill.
Working with the Executive Director of SFER at Princeton University, Catherine Bellinger, Kalil built the College’s SFER chapter from the ground up with the help of three project leaders, without whom, he stressed, “all of this wouldn’t have been possible.” The chapter on the Hill is organized into three teams of students, intent on awareness, engagement and understanding.
The awareness team is led by Tasha De Sherbinin ’11, who is studying human development and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and is also a Teach for America corps member. “Our mission is to organize events on campus that raise awareness of the need for education reform,” De Sherbinin said. “The achievement gap in schools affects the majority of children in our nation, yet many people are unaware it exists.”
Edwin Torres ’12, who is the head of SFER’s engagement team, echoed De Sherbinin’s statement. “We need to get people to notice the problem and help them be leaders in education reform no matter what their major is,” the American studies major and president of Gentlemen of Quality on the Hill said.
The engagement team directly connects students on the Hill with children and youth who don’t have the same privileges in education, and offers educational workshops and activities. At a recent ice cream social, students from the South End Teen Center in Waterville came to the College to play “Academic Jeopardy” and won Colby gear as prizes to encourage them to start thinking about higher education as a real possibility and as a goal for them to begin working towards.
International studies and anthropology double major Katie Lindquist ’14 leads SFER’s understanding team. The understanding team’s primary role is to try and develop a deeper understanding of the education gap and the social, political and economic factors that cause it,” Lindquist said. “Through this understanding we hope to develop more effective solutions to change it.”
The understanding team is organizing events to gather more knowledge on educational gaps. “The main event we are currently working on is a visit to KIPP Academy Lynn in Lynn, Massachusetts, which is a high performing charter school that gives kids from a lower socioeconomic background the chance for a first rate education,” Lindquist said. “We are also working on putting together a panel made up of the past three Maine Teachers of the Year so students at Colby can learn more about effective teaching methods and some ideologies behind those methods.”
These three teams and their leaders are working to make education reform a visible and talked-about issue on the Hill. They are looking to inspire students to engage in this national issue and are trying to create opportunities for students to effect important changes and make their voices heard in this national debate. “It can really do as much good for Colby kids to open their eyes to the reality of the problem as it does for the kids that they’re helping,” Torres said.
“I truly believe that SFER’s approach to education reform through educating a new generation of activists is key to making a difference in the current educational system in America,” Lindquist added.
Look out for SFER’s upcoming screening of Waiting For Superman—a documentary that delivers the compelling facts and figures, as well as the human face of the system of public school education—after spring break. The Huffington Post described the film as “nothing short of a wake up call to all Americans.”