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Graduate Students Benefit From AACTE’s Day on the Hill

Sam Miller and Marcie Rock (UNC-Greensboro), Gliset Colón (U. at Buffalo), and Mel Sullivan (UNC-Greensboro) with Chris Toppings, staffer for Senator Richard Burr (NC).

Have you considered bringing your graduate students to Washington, DC, for AACTE’s Day on the Hill? Last year, Marcia Rock, associate professor and director of doctoral studies in special education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, did just that with a cadre of graduate students in special education fields. Here is what they had to say about the experience:

Carly Roberts, Doctoral Scholar, University of Wisconsin-Madison:

I was fortunate to be able to attend five meetings on the Hill. I had never realized how accessible our congressman and senators were to constituents. These visits showed me what a powerful force lobbyists and individuals passionate about education can have in Washington. Seeing AACTE’s dedicated staff and all of the university representatives, teachers, and graduate students prepare for their visits with such fervor and passion was inspiring. The gains we’ve made in special education in the past 40 years would not have been possible without such inspired groups and individuals.

I realize now more than ever how important being an advocate for public education and for individuals with exceptionalities is, because I’ve seen firsthand how such advocacy really can have an impact.

Gliset Colón, Doctoral Scholar, University at Buffalo:

AACTE did an exceptional job providing those who are new to advocacy with the latest information on education policy and helpful techniques for communicating with politicians on Capitol Hill. My participation in Day on the Hill supported my professional goals, as I aspire to lobby for educational reform in the areas of bilingual and special education.

The AACTE members I met were very resourceful, giving me a support network to begin my journey as an advocate. This future advocacy will most certainly impact students with exceptionalities and their families, specifically those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This population needs a voice in Capitol Hill to impact change and result in positive educational outcomes.

Jackie Towson, Doctoral Student, Georgia State University:

As a doctoral student in early childhood special education, I am challenged with pursuing research and teaching that is meaningful to future generations of students. Having the opportunity to advocate for these topics directly with senators and congressmen/women was an enlightening experience. Although it often seems that changes in policy are out of reach, this experience showed me that there exists power in numbers and groups acting in a united way for the betterment of education.

I was highly interested in training that would prepare me for a role in policy making at the local, state, and national levels. During AACTE’s Day on the Hill, I was able to collaborate with fellow educators from my own institution and across the nation to advocate for issues that affect all levels of education. This experience empowered me to share what I learned with peers as well as in courses I am teaching during my studies. I now know that it is my duty and obligation as an educator to reach out to policy makers in order to advocate for the students I teach.

Mel Sullivan, Link-2-Lead Doctoral Scholar, University of North Carolina at Greensboro:

Before our Hill visits, we had the opportunity to see Senator Jack Reed and Congressman Mike Honda receive the AACTE Congressional Leadership Award for their work on the Educator Preparation Reform Act. It was wonderful to see our leaders who are working for educational improvements recognized and rewarded for their important efforts.

After the awards presentation, we “stormed the Hill”! We advocated for increased funding for federal programs that support teacher preparation and the need to develop stronger teacher preparation policy. We talked to our representatives about the impact of programs at UNCG and how we are using federal funds to develop strong programs that prepare effective teachers and leaders.

It was such an amazing experience to see people I work with on a daily basis talk to some important decision makers in our government. To know my voice was heard by individuals in Congress—who will help make the laws that govern my career and the education of my future children—was extremely powerful!

The 2014 Day on the Hill runs June 11-12 as part of AACTE’s Washington Week, which also includes the State Leaders Institute and the Holmes Scholars Summer Policy Institute. Participants are encouraged to bring a team from their programs to realize the greatest impact at Day on the Hill.

“Exposure to and participation in the public policy making process is an important experience for doctoral students, our future education leaders,” said Jane E. West, AACTE education policy consultant. “We all know that the impact of policy decisions on education practice is more significant than ever, and the more that doctoral students are able to impact policy deliberation to inform it with expertise from the field, the better policy decisions will be.”

For more information and to register, click here.

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