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Poverty Studies Shaped My Commitment to Education

By Kathryn Marsh-Soloway

Ms. Marsh-Soloway joined Teach for America Corps in Atlanta in 2013. After two years teaching special education at a charter school in Metro-Atlanta she, stayed in the classroom after being promoted to lead the special education department at her school. She graduated from Washington and Lee University in 2013 with a dual degree in Art History and Journalism Mass Communications.

It is hard to believe just how much sitting in a Poverty and Human Capabilities class as a prospective student over seven years ago has impacted my career path.  The Shepherd Program at Washington and Lee was one of the key reasons I applied to for admission there and it helped define and shape my college experience.

Through the Shepherd Program I was able to participate in a pre-orientation program for new students and I got to work in local service opportunities before starting my freshman classes. I learned firsthand how partnerships in my new town worked together to serve the community.  A local campus minister addressed our entire freshman class before the academic calendar officially started. He asked our class, “Are you here for something to do, or to do something.” That charge framed my efforts to be a member of the Lexington, Virginia, community working for positive social change.

“Are you here for something to do, or to do something?” asked a campus pastor during college orientation. This charge inspires Kathryn today. Pictured here with students after the first athletic victory in school history.

“Are you here for something to do, or to do something?” asked a campus pastor during college orientation. This charge inspires Kathryn today. Pictured here with students after the first athletic victory in school history.

As an undergraduate I quickly became involved in the Bonner Scholars Program, Campus Kitchens, Nabors Service League, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters; I eagerly took advantage of alternative break programs. The need for greater food security throughout the area was immediately apparent, as I worked with students in the public schools. As the grant writing intern for Campus Kitchens, I worked to obtain funding, grants, and donations from Walmart to expand the ongoing backpack program. This program provides students with a backpack full of food every Friday, discretely placed in their school lockers.  This insures that each student struggling with food insecurity has access to food on the weekends when they do not receive the breakfast, lunch, and snack provided by their schools. I also began working intensively with other Bonner Scholars to create a chapter of Big Brother and Big Sisters to match college students as mentors with local children. As a Journalism Mass Communications and Art History Major I was able to blend my interest in working with youth and my academic courses. My capstone fit my love of arts and passion for childhood education. My courses combined interests in advocacy for children in school, as well as the complexities of how social issues are portrayed and reported in our media.

I was able to take classes that fit my academic interest and related directly to my fieldwork in the community. Some of my favorite courses included: Poverty in the Media, Child Abuse and Neglect taught in the Law School, an Exceptional Learner course in the Education Program, and my poverty studies capstone examining evaluation methods of arts education programs in schools across America. A pattern emerged: my courses through the poverty studies minor centered on my passion for advocacy, children, and education. These classes were fascinating and strengthened my interest in the American education system.

The summer after my sophomore year, I completed my Shepherd Internship at WonderRoot, a community arts center in Atlanta. I quickly fell in love with the city. At WonderRoot I had the opportunity to organize and work on a city wide mural project. The project involved bringing together artists, school children, and community agencies to give art lessons to local youth who would then, in turn, design and work on murals in public schools in their communities.  Now that I have lived and worked in Atlanta for over two and a half years, it still brings a huge smile to my face whenever I drive by these murals that I played a role in helping to create over five years ago.

After graduation I joined Teach for America’s Atlanta Corps, an organization focused on combatting educational inequality. Teach for America attracts new teachers to the field from diverse sectors, which parallels the model of the Shepherd Program in poverty studies. The program unites college students from different schools, universities, and majors all working towards having an impact and changing student trajectories. I completed my two-year commitment with Teach for America as a middle school special education teacher at a new Atlanta Charter School. I decided to stay at my school a third year after being promoted to become Lead Teacher running the special education department.  It is very gratifying to work with my students and their families.

The skills, pedagogy, and theory that I leaned in poverty studies at Washington and Lee are a part of my work on a daily basis. I am thankful to the professors, peers, and community members that helped me get to where I am today. I highly encourage every student to explore the multitude of opportunities that poverty studies offer at their schools.


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