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Urban Schools Subject of Study by Georgetown Students

Sasha Panaram

Sasha Panaram (C’13), who wants to expose the inequalities that exist within the U.S. education system, was one of three students to plan an Urban Education Immersion Trip.
Photo by Paulette Waltz

May 8, 2012 – A Georgetown junior who wanted to study urban schools and education inequality firsthand teamed up with a sophomore and a senior to design an alternative spring break trip to look at schools in Washington, D.C., and New York.

“I wanted to expose people to the education inequalities that do exist,” says Sasha Panaram (C’13).

The idea for the Urban Education Trip, which took place in March, started more than a year ago during a conversation she had with Raymond Shiu, associate director of the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching, and Service.

Immersion Trip

Panaram later worked with co-leader Colleen Gravens (C’14) and Arianna Pattek (SFS’12) to plan the trip.

While many alternative spring breaks focus on service alone, Panaram wanted to design an “immersion trip” that delved into issues specific to urban schools.

“I’ve always been interested in education. I come from a family of educators,” the English major explained. “Learning and being in the classroom has always been my niche.”

Minor with Major Influence

Georgetown’s new minor in education, inquiry and justice provided her a way to combine her community service and academic interests.

“Although I was doing everything on my own, when Georgetown proposed this minor, it just brought everything together,” she said.

Ten other Georgetown students joined Panaram on the Urban Education Immersion trip to meet with teachers, students and policymakers.

“We tried to get our participants into a lot of different types of schools, whether that be parochial, public or charter,” she explained. “We wanted to put them into classrooms and put them in contact with teachers, students and community members.”

Hard Challenges

As the students moved between meetings and schools, Panaram and Gravens led discussions on new education policies, teacher evaluations, preparedness and preventing teacher burnout.

At a New York KIPP charter school (Knowledge is Power Program), the Georgetown students noted that some of the classes are taught by co-teachers who divide their attention among struggling students.

Panaram was particularly impressed by teachers who continuously adapted to the needs of their students.

“They are in a position where they are facing hard challenges every single day yet they are so committed to their work in every school we went to,” she said. “There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for their students.”

Education Conversation

The junior said the experience added new insight into her academic work and extracurricular activities.

Panaram was already an experienced tutor when she came to Georgetown, and she continues to help children in the Sursum Corda, DC Reads programs and the Cristo Rey Network.

“We will continue to approach our activities with a willingness to understand how our work impacts the DC community, how urban cities shape school policies, and how we, as college students and community members, can contribute to the conversation of education inequalities that dominates the headlines now,” she said.


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