Kayla Provencher, Reaching Higher’s Public Policy Researcher, has been a student almost her whole life, finishing grad school just this past spring. She experienced the inequities between NH’s school firsthand as a young person. Now, she’s passionate about bridging education policy to the people most affected by it .
How did your own experiences in NH schools lead you into education policy?
I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and attended high school in a city and I first-hand saw some of the different ways funding impacts a student’s experience. I remember when I first started working here at Reaching Higher we had released “The Different School, Different World: An Introduction to School Funding in New Hampshire” video on YouTube and I remember being in awe feeling like “that’s it, that was my experience.” I felt so seen and honestly got excited that we were highlighting this topic. As a student when you’re in school and seeing their differences you don’t necessarily understand their implications. But as soon as I graduated and began to reflect on my experience I realized how significant that was.
The fact that I was able to shift from one small district to a large city gave me an important perspective that I think really showcased some of the funding issues that we have in this state.
You just graduated with your master’s in education policy from Boston College. Boil it down for us: What are the three most important things you learned?
Well first off, I learned the value of having connections with others interested in education and policy all around the country and the world. The way many of my courses were structured allowed me to complete group assignments and interact with people all over. For instance, one of my courses had an interactive discussion called “The Week in Policy News” where every week classmates share anything from legislation that’s getting passed, lawsuits that are happening nationwide, to studies being released. We all get to have conversations about what’s happening and relate it to our own experiences. It has allowed me to connect what’s happening in New Hampshire to other states.
Next, I learned about the need to educate others in education policy and educational policy issues. Many of my peers who are teachers were completely in shock when we began our education policy courses. For many of them it was like “why didn’t I know this sooner?”
Lastly, If there was one takeaway that most of my courses consistently had – it was to remain grounded in the main stakeholders of education: the students. The goal should always be supporting all students no matter how high up in policy and government you get.
That’s such an important point. What does your work at Reaching Higher consist of and how do you stay true to that goal?
My work is grounded in a lot of logistics and keeping Reaching Higher as on top of things as possible when it comes to what is happening in the State House, General Court, Department of Education, just anything that’s happening education related. I complete research projects, follow education-related meetings, provide calendar updates to the team, assist in content… Things change all the time, and even as someone fully immersed in education policy I’m always learning something new. When I describe my work and what Reaching Higher does to others I say that “we bridge policy to everyday people.” We take complicated information and government processes and translate it to make it more accessible to stakeholders, whether that be community members, teachers, parents, students, or anyone else (because everyone is a stakeholder in education). We try to be a resource and shine a light on important topics that will directly impact public education.
Listen to the full interview here.
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