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Education, Exploration: Scholars Work in Schools, Nonprofits

Marlene Arellano ’17 teaches students in the Levine Museum’s History ACTIVE summer program.
Marlene Arellano ’17 teaches students in the Levine Museum’s History ACTIVE summer program.

Growing up in Chicago and visiting North Carolina for the first time as a student at Davidson, Marlene Arellano '17 wanted to learn more about the Charlotte area. The Education Scholars program not only fed her curiosity, but also her interest in education equality.

"After taking a course on the history and theory of education my first semester at Davidson, I wanted a framework of education somewhere close to the college," said Arellano, who also is a Charles Scholar and Questbridge Scholar.

With her placement at the Levine Museum of the New South, Arellano discovered that the summer would involve another one of her passions–Latin American culture. The museum plans to open an exhibition called "NUEVOlution! Latinos and the New South" in late September, and she was able to help with both summer programming and preparation for the exhibition itself.

"The number of people it takes to successfully create an exhibit has been eye-opening," Arellano said. "It's outside the box of what we normally think of as education and is a really powerful tool."

While she knew that museums offered educational programming, she hadn't realized how central the work of museum education departments is to their institutions. She experienced this as an organizer of History ACTIVE, a Levine Museum summer program. This year's History ACTIVE theme also happened to be Latinos in the New South.

"Most of the students are non-Latino," she said. "So by watching documentaries, reading poetry and having discussions, they're able to understand the changing demographics of the South and what that means for them."

As Arellano facilitated History ACTIVE, she realized the importance of extracurricular learning opportunities. "Our schools can't do all of the teaching. We need ways to complement the public education system so that significant content doesn't get left out," she explained.

Multiple Approaches

Education Scholars interning at and representing different sectors of education in the Charlotte area meet once per week to discuss relevant literature, including the book Our Kids, as well as what they're learning in the field.

"We can list all of these problems that affect students and we want to say that this is how you fix it, but it turns out that there isn't one approach. We each arrive at different solutions based on the experiences we've had," she said.

the 2015 education scholars
This summer, there were 10 Education Scholars: (r-l, back) Elizabeth Prosser ’18, Project Scientist; Arsalaan Hashmi ’17, Teach for America; Yijao Chen ’17, UNC Charlotte Urban Institute; Morgan Mercer ’18, Allenbrook Elementary School; Marlene Arellano ’17, Levine Museum of the New South; Will Hughes ’17, Charlotte Lab School; (r-l, front) Alejandra Rodriguez ’17, CMS Office of the Superintendent; Caitie Connor ’17, Arts & Science Council; Jonathan Swan ’18, Billingsville Elementary; Jonathan Sheperd-Smith ’18, Project L.I.F.T.

Political science major and Education Scholar Will Hughes '17, for example, is working with a brand new charter school, Charlotte Lab School, as they prepare to open. He shares Arellano's passion for educational equity and access. Prior to this summer he volunteered with E2D (Eliminating the Digital Divide) as part of the Students Consulting Nonprofits campus organization, and now he finds parallels between that work and his projects at Charlotte Lab School.

"It's similar not only because of the work we're doing to research devices for learning, but also because of the issue of access," he explained. "There is a digital divide among students, and a divide for access to a great education. Access to technology and equity of access are especially important to me."

At Charlotte Lab School Hughes has focused on educational software and data. He learned the coding languages necessary to create an enrollment data sheet with scripts to automate the process, as well as a script for the school's capital campaign.

"I'm glad I can use my programming knowledge to help them. That's something that's so simple for me to do, but will have an impact on them once I'm gone," he said. "It has also forced me to be incredibly flexible and pick up new skills as I go."

An educational studies minor, Hughes felt he had a strong understanding of charter schools from studying the subject, but he hadn't encountered it directly until his summer experience. "It excites me to gain first-hand knowledge of what makes a charter school successful and the ways the system can be powerful and impactful," he said.

Arellano, who credits an educational studies course for prompting her to think more broadly about the subject, said her majors in anthropology and Latin American studies have contributed to her experience as an Education Scholar.

"I think the idea of cultural pedagogy and how you teach culture is really interesting," she said. "My first educational studies course provided me with a basic foundation in the history and role of education and public schools in society, while my anthropology courses have shaped the way I respond to questions posed in our meetings."

Both Hughes and Arellano are excited to be among a community of people who are passionate about education, as well as to learn about the Charlotte region.

"I've been thinking about volunteer opportunities and ways I can be sure to take advantage of what the Charlotte area has to offer, and this program has provided me with a window into a larger part of our community and how I can make an impact," Arellano said.

For more information, on the Education Scholars program, contact the Center for Civic Engagement.