A Southeast Missouri State University faculty member and student recently joined more than 150 faculty and students at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s (AACTE) 2018 Washington Week in Arlington, Virginia.
Dr. Shonta Smith, associate professor of elementary, early and special education and member of Southeast’s UI100: First-Year Seminar advisory committee, attended Washington Week with Ke-La Harris, a senior middle school education, math concentration major from St. Louis, Missouri.
Smith and Harris attended the Holmes Summer Policy Institute sessions where they learned about the implications of current policy on research and programming that focus on minority populations. They interacted with researchers, educators and scholars, and discussed how to advocate for certain issues as well as how to navigate Capitol Hill.
“The importance of Southeast participating in this endeavor is to expose students,” Smith said. “Exposure provides students with opportunities to experience what is required in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on a daily basis.”
Since 1991, the AACTE’s Holmes Scholars Program has supported pursuing careers in education at AACTE member institutions. The Holmes Honors Program at Southeast supports undergraduates from historically underrepresented groups interested in a career in teaching, school administration or the professoriate.
Having the chance to attend AACTE’s national conference and visit Washington, D.C., was a great opportunity to learn how teachers can have an impact on bills and laws at the state and national level, Harris said.
“I learned that you can talk to your representatives and senators about your thoughts on policies and bills from your perspective,” she said. “And you can express appreciation for any grants your institution has received due to their support and actions.”
Hearing from keynote speakers was a valuable experience, said Smith. These included discussions on the importance of being the voice of advocacy for educational policy, the art of leadership, best teaching practices, and how to honor students first and foremost.
For Harris, discussions on teacher loan forgiveness programs and school safety policies were very significant, she said.
Smith and Harris also had the opportunity to speak with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, and a policy aide to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill about Southeast’s EDvolution Center, state grants, teacher loan forgiveness and the University.
These discussions were very beneficial and important in taking an active role in the political process as teachers and constituents, said Smith.
“We commended them for the things they are doing in our communities, shared the great things we are doing at Southeast and in the College of Education, and advocated for teacher preparation programs,” she said.
Having students involved in the political process early and learning how to effectively participate is an important aspect of attending conferences like Washington Week, said Smith.
“I want them to learn to be the voice of reason, and my hope is that moving forward they learn to be the best they can be by being the change they want to see,” she said.
Participating in 2018 Washington Week allowed her to gain effective insights into national politics that she hopes to use in the classroom, Harris said.
“I will be able to more actively participate in discussions about policies and bills from the Department of Education, and I hope to share the facts and events from this conference with my peers,” Harris said. “I will use the information gained from this conference to help me become a better teacher in the future.”
Top Photo Caption: (From right to left) Dr. Shonta Smith, Southeast associate professor of elementary, early and special education; Southeast student Ke-La Harris; Dr. Beth Kania-Gosche, associate dean of education at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri; and a Lindenwood University student meet with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (center) during the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s (AACTE) 2018 Washington Week.