Each year the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) hosts Washington Week, an opportunity for faculty, Holmes Scholars, and state leaders to learn, collaborate, and network around the advocacy for education in our country. W&M Holmes Scholars Philippa Chin, Lavare Henry, Paola Mendizabal, Aishwarya Nambiar, and Shené Owens participated in Washington Week 2022 this past June. This year's theme "Educating the Future: Policy and Advocacy as Levels of Change" centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics and issues.
The scholars attended various training sessions that empowered them with the language, approaches, and skills to advocate before policymakers. In addition, they heard speeches from AACTE, United States Department of Education representatives, and other interest groups in the education space. The conference also provided attendees with information on specific educational issues to empower them with the appropriate data and learn where to collect other relevant data to support their message. "We learned how to approach House Representatives on Capitol Hill, which sometimes is hard to do especially when we feel strongly about a topic or issue, this experience is helpful for now and for our future,” comments Mendizabal. Holmes Scholars also learned about strategies and tips for entering the job market, options available, and important considerations.
"We learned a lot about policy and policy issues. The experience prepared educators to be policy advocates. It allowed people from different states to get together for a meeting of the minds as they prepare to be advocates for their local leaders," states Henry. He further comments on how this experience impacted his learning: "I got to appreciate how things come together. Policy isn't far away from us as educators. I saw the importance of our role as advocates and having a seat at the table when policy is made. It raised awareness that you can't just operate in your bubble in your local situation. Decisions are made in the houses of power that impact classrooms and schools. So, we must be aware of the thinking there, and people on the ground shouldn't be out of the process. This impacts the work you can do."
Similarly impacted by learning about the effects of advocacy, Chin shares, "We as citizens have the power to create change and it is our right to do so. As educators, we may also work together for a common cause that may affect generations to come. It really highlighted the opportunities that educators have to incorporate social justice and advocacy into our work. The experience laid out a blueprint of how one could affect change by going directly to the government with your message."
Nambiar also felt empowered as a student, "My biggest takeaway was knowing that contributing to changing current policies and shortages in higher education is not limited to faculty and administration. That as students, we too can contribute to the change."
As part of the learning experience, the Holmes Scholars had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which connected to the theme of the conference. "It was an emotional and humbling experience looking at the history of our country and its treatment of Black people. I plan on taking my children there to learn details of Black history that they may not learn in school," shares Chin.
Overall, having this opportunity gave the Holmes Scholars connections to their learning, skills and tools for advocacy, and helpful tips for the job market. "These events I attend as a Holmes Scholar are empowering and inspiring. I feel that I belong because I see other people that look like me," shares Mendizabal.
Program Director for the W&M Holmes Scholars and Associate Professor, Stephanie Blackmon, summarizes the opportunity, "AACTE's Washington Week is an important way for Holmes Scholars to learn more about education policy and advocacy. We had another excellent group of William & Mary Holmes Scholars participate in Washington Week this summer. The William & Mary Holmes Scholars are already a group of smart, hard-working, high achieving students, and the knowledge they gained from the Washington Week experience will enhance their opportunities to extend their work to both shaping and advocating for education policy."