This blog post is the first of the Reality Check Box interview series with mentors and mentees from the REALITY Check Program. Be sure to check out our informational post about the program.
Hometown: Scarsdale, New York and New York City
Education: Columbia University (English major, Political Science minor)
Teach for America Placement: Taught fifth and sixth grade reading and history at Elm City College Prep Middle School, an Achievement First charter school in New Haven, Connecticut.
Extracurriculars: I like to run outside, bake and read young adult fiction.
What motivated you to do Teach for America?
In college, I was heavily involved with Let’s Get Ready, a program that expands college access to low-income high school students by providing free SAT preparation and college admissions guidance. I tutored with the program, founded a chapter, served on its board, interned at the office and made great connections. This experience made me want to work on education reform.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you up at night?
The achievement gap. When I was a freshman at Columbia University, I taught an SAT prep class at the Frederick Douglass Academy to high school juniors and seniors through the Let’s Get Ready program. I saw students who were motivated to go to college but lacked the skills and support systems that are crucial to master the SAT game. This really got me fired up about educational inequity and how solvable it is.
Tell a story about a moment when the inequality in this world really hit home.
I have so many of these, but the first instance really hit me the hardest. When I was working with Let’s Get Ready, I taught kids who were smart, driven and motivated but were ill-served by their schools especially when facing the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of the SATs. My students were really scared of the test, unprepared and intimidated by it. I couldn’t help but compare this to my upbringing in Scarsdale, where people begin studying for the SATs during sophomore year with private tutors. Some of my peers didn’t care nearly as much.
There are so many challenges in the world that need attention. What is it about education reform that really speaks to you?
Education is the key to freedom. It’s not just about empowering individual kids. It’s the key to our country and the world’s future. I had so many positive educational experiences growing up which made such a difference in my life. I want all others to have the opportunities and choices that quality education provides.
What speaks to you about education reform – in 140 characters?
Geography should not determine your destiny; everyone deserves an excellent education, which is the only way to create a fair and better world.
What was the most challenging part of your job?
My students were facing so many obstacles. The challenging part was figuring out what’s in your control and what’s beyond it, and then focusing your energy on what you can control.
What was the most compelling and rewarding part of your job?
My students! Just seeing the incredible progress made by the most amazing 10 and 11 year-olds. I can tell you so many stories of kids who jumped four years in reading levels in just two years.
How do you feel your REALITY Check experience intersects with your Jewish experience?
I’ve always liked being Jewish, but I used to feel unqualified to do the “right” Jewish things. REALITY Check has been amazing for me in terms of incorporating myself into Judaism and really connecting my Jewish values to social justice. I now feel a deeper connection to Judaism because I understand that it is rooted in social justice and values that I share. REALITY Check also helped make Shabbat more meaningful to me. I now work to create Shabbat commitments that resonate with me, giving me the pause I need to recharge myself.
How has the REALITY Check program helped you do your work better?
Being able to create the connections between Judaism, my values and social justice has made me more committed to all of them and to the work that I am doing. It’s helped me reflect on what my values really are and if I’m acting in accordance to them, both short and long-term. The program has connected me in the deepest ways to leaders working for causes they care about throughout the country. It’s helped me focus on my personal theory of change and how this relates to the next steps I need to take.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently learning about another side of human capital by working in recruiting and human resources at a hedge fund in New York City. Eventually, I hope to go to business school or do a program such as Education Pioneers, and then be involved in managing a nonprofit that’s focused on expanding access to quality education.
About the REALITY Check Program
REALITY, a program of The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, empowers exceptional people to realize their leadership potential through a unique personal and professional development journey. Grounded in the Jewish charge to repair the world, REALITY is a network of leaders who act on deeply held values to enact positive social change in their communities, the Jewish world and beyond. The program begins with REALITY Israel, which takes Teach For America corps members on a 12-day journey across Israel to help them build their understanding of their own unique leadership, reflect on the role of their identity on their work, recharge their conviction about justice and opportunity, and consider where they want to make their long-term impact in the Teach For America and education reform movement. Corps members leave Israel with new skills, tools and motivation to make meaningful differences in the communities in which they live and work. With REALITY Israel in its fourth year, there are more than 200 members of the REALITY community. In 2012, REALITY launched REALITY Check, a year-long program for 25 REALITY community members to expand upon the themes and approaches from their Israel experience, continue their development as leaders and become the most effective agents for change possible. REALITY Check is a partnership of The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Samberg Family Foundation, Teach for America and Repair the World.