Loyola students continue to seek innovation in urban education
Senior brings Loyola students into national education conversation
April 14, 2014
According to the old Mark Twain adage, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
For education student Annie Bolan, ’14, those days are one in the same.
“I was born to be a teacher,” she explains. “I’ve always known this is what I was going to do.”
When she was accepted to Loyola, where her three older sisters had gone to school (she’s the fourth of six siblings), she admits, “I was nervous that I wasn’t going to be good enough.”
The morning of May 1—the deadline for acceptance—Annie took a leap of faith…
And “it’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life,” she says now.
Bolan was quick to confront the realities of teaching in Baltimore’s poor urban neighborhoods, which are vastly different from the “bubbled” life she knew in the white suburbs of Newport, Rhode Island, where she grew up.
“It’s different in an urban area,” she says, pointing to the 20 percent teacher turnover rate in urban schools that, in some areas, is actually higher than the student dropout rate.
For would-be urban teachers who come from the suburbs, says Bolan, “that means we need to have conversations about social identities and race and culture and poverty and privilege and power—and how all those come into play.”
Early in her junior year, that realization led Bolan and her friend, Gena Stenger, to discover Urban Needs in Teacher Education (UNITE), a student group launched at the University of Illinois in 2007.
Through fundraising, community engagement, and professional development, the group helps education students prepare for careers as urban teachers.
Bolan and Stenger were hooked, and they signed up for UNITE’s Project 43 last February.
Held in Chicago, Illinois, Project 43—named for the 43 percent dropout rate among Chicago’s 2008-2009 cohort of students—brings UNITE members from universities across the country to delve into the urban student dropout problem.
“We did workshops on behavior management, we had an ex-gang member come and talk to us, we explored Chicago; we talked to principals and teachers and students and parents, and we just talked about their experiences. I learned so much,” says Bolan.
Less than a month later, Bolan, Stenger, and 65 Loyola students were holding a kick-off event for the University’s own UNITE chapter.
One year later and the group is going strong, with more than 30 members showing up every Wednesday night to discuss what’s going on in their classrooms: Do they need to talk about parent relationships, cultural differences, socio-economic status, and local community resources, among other topics affecting their students and their students’ learning?
“I think that conversation is going to help School of Ed. students become great teachers. It’s going to help us understand the bigger picture. To understand that there is this kind of battle between power, privilege, poverty, and race, and understand how these all interconnect,” says Bolan, now co-leader of Loyola’s UNITE chapter.
“We can only understand that through experiencing it, through getting out in the community, and from reading articles and talking to people, from talking about our experiences. That’s the only way.”