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At the Nexus of Education and Poverty

Mr. Masters interned with The Parks & People Foundation’s SuperKids Camp (Baltimore, MD) in the summer of 2015.  A native of Dallas, Texas, Jaziah is a currently senior at Baylor University.  A political science major, he plans on pursuing a public service fellowship before enrolling in graduate school.

My passion for education sparked early.  My experience in 8th grade U.S. history was so positive, that I knew I wanted to work in the field of education.  The pursuit of this commitment has lead me down an incredibly rich path.  My studies at Baylor University, my experience with the Shepherd Internship Program (SHECP), and my other engaged learning opportunities have better informed my approach to the subject.  Once I realized the significant influence poverty has on educational outcomes, I connected my studies, and finally understood that education lies at the center of a web.  Working to address aspects of this intricate nexus will serve as the foundation for my life’s work.

"Relationship-building was the very first lesson that I needed to learn. I could not ‘make’ my mentee do what I had planned for the day. Simply relying on the authority of my position would have been a mistake," writes Masters, Baylor '17.

“Relationship-building was the very first lesson that I needed to learn. I could not ‘make’ my mentee do what I had planned for the day. Simply relying on the authority of my position would have been a mistake,” writes Masters, Baylor ’17.

I declared the leadership minor early in my undergraduate career.  The Academy of Leadership Development at Baylor University seeks to equip students with theoretical and practical knowledge of leadership.  Drawing heavily from the servant leadership model, the curriculum combines the application of leadership with the distinct values of the University.  My studies in the minor have given me the opportunity to work toward positive social change in the face of challenge, particularly poverty.  What has undoubtedly been the most impactful aspect of my studies, however, has taken place outside the four walls of a classroom.  Both Baylor and SHECP have allowed me the opportunity to serve.

It did not take long for me to find an outlet for my educational aspirations.  Through the leadership minor, I was given the opportunity to take the Leadership and Social Change course.  As an extension of the course, my class led an afterschool-program at a local elementary school.  The elementary students selected for our program were on the cusp of passing their standardized tests.  Our class working with these students gave them an additional push to succeed.  We assisted in a variety of ways; whether tutoring or simply playing a game.

That project was my first foray into education with a focus on poverty.  My assigned elementary school faced challenges in funding, staffing, and many more characteristics of schools across the nation.  Our students faced difficulties such as discipline and hunger, inside and outside the classroom.  I had only a marginal understanding of how these factors affect the learning environment.  This experience was a watershed moment for me.  I began to understand how these factors impact education.

It took time to bond with my mentee.  Relationship-building was the very first lesson that I needed to learn.  I could not ‘make’ my mentee do what I had planned for the day.  Simply relying on the authority of my position would have been a mistake.  In education, the saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  My approach had to reflect this wisdom.  I couldn’t be an instructor; I had to be a mentor.  I didn’t enter the room with a to-do list to instill but allowed my mentee to see that I cared about him.  This process was not a straight line of progress, but an ebb and flow that finally became a solid routine.

As our bond grew, my mentee occasionally shared stories of success, such as a good grade on a test.  We celebrated each victory, even through difficult times.  During our class’s weekly recap, I heard other students’ troubles.  For some students, our visits became one of the few consistencies in their lives.  I was truly humbled.  Soon they would be taking their exams and we would go our separate ways.  I was truly excited to see the progress we made over the semester.

Close to the end of our time together, I arrived one day to an empty desk and was shocked to learn that my mentee had transferred.  I have never forgotten the feeling in that moment.  I thought I had failed, but I was wrong.  I had the opportunity to mentor an incredible young man over most of the semester.  We had made an impact.  I left the final day disappointed, but inspired to do more.  I would draw heavily on this experience the following summer, as I pursued the SHECP Internship Program.

2015 was a difficult year for the city of Baltimore, Maryland.  The outcry from the death of Freddie Gray reverberated throughout the nation.  Millions turned on their televisions to see the strife of a city.  Compounding this with other existing issues, Baltimore was a city with hardship.  It was also the city in which I served humbly as a Shepherd intern.

I was drawn to the city by a unique opportunity in education.  I was asked to lead instruction for a class at an academic enrichment camp.  I would teach local 2nd – 4th graders.  “This is it,” I thought to myself, “the prequel to my future career.”  In the weeks leading up to the first day, I was giddy with anticipation.  Decorations hung, curriculum reviewed, the entire day planned.  Come the first day of school, I knew I was prepared.

I left the first day exhausted.  I quickly realized that I would not be teaching one class of sixteen.  Instead, I would be teaching sixteen classes of one.  Even at such young ages, my students had developed varied personalities and learning styles.  It was my task to reach each of them.  Some students would happily participate, others preferred solitude.  I soon realized classroom management not only involves behavior, but also affects the way I organize, teach, and lead.

As summer progressed, I had to think quickly and adapt.  I once again underestimated how long it would take to build trust between the students and myself.  Yet, I drew from my previous experience to ensure success.  Above all else, I remained patience.  A relationship built on trust between teacher and student is not built over a day, or even an introductory week.  And still there were times of regression.  “Be patient anyway,” I would whisper to myself.  Even through the difficult moments, I remembered my mission to serve.

My effectiveness as a teacher played a significant factor in determining how rich of an experience my students could have.  At the end of the summer, I knew we had come far.  Laughs shared, memories made, lessons learned; we had achieved.  Every student at camp took something positive away from the experience.  My summer in Baltimore helped me realize the significant impact I could have as a patient teacher.  After a tearful goodbye, I returned home even more determined to make a difference.

In the spring semester of 2016, I was selected to participate in the Semester in Washington at American University.  This Program allows students to further their knowledge of political science and government by studying in the heart of our nation’s capital.  In DC, I was exposed to new institutions and ideas and met pollsters and politicians.  My biggest takeaway was an emerging interest in public policy.  Through policy, I can address educational outcomes, and many issues that impact these outcomes.  Policy can place me at the nexus of education and poverty.

I plan to pursue work in the public sector in the field of education.  I believe education to be a fundamental key to greater opportunity, and a reliable bridge out of poverty.  There are issues that remain unsolved, but through Baylor and the SHECP internship, I have learned about the opportunity gap, summer loss, and some of the best ways to overcome them.  An effective student-teacher relationship encourages a student to learn and to improve educational achievement.  Policy goes beyond the test score to address social factors, such as housing, hunger and funding.  I can work to address both aspects of the educational experience.

I will draw from all the lessons I have learned to craft my personal approach to policy and solutions.  Teaching remains a strong interest of mine, and I would relish the opportunity to combine my two passions.  All of this remains at the forefront of my mind as I begin senior year.  Although I remain unsure about my next step, it will connect education and poverty in some way.  It will be informed by various facets of my Baylor education integrated with my SHECP internship.  This education took me out of my comfort zone to explore opportunities and solidify my career intentions.  The path forward is bright and will combine education practices and policy to expand opportunities for those who have not had the same access.  Going forward, I have a cornerstone for my life’s work and legacy.


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