Students participating in the competitive Washington, D.C. Public Policy program had the opportunity to end the fall semester with a different perspective on the city than usual. Students enrolled in the semester-long curriculum take three courses taught by Professor of Economics Alan Frishman and Professor of Public Policy and Political Science Craig Rimmerman, and participate in an internship credited as the fourth course. This year, a section on educational policy within a bidisciplinary course they taught was accompanied by a visit to a public elementary school, Tyler Elementary, hosted by alum Lily Farnham ’11.
The visit was “quite experiential,” explains Rimmerman. The students sat in on two different classes, a preschool class of four-year-olds and one of fifth graders, then met with Farnham to talk about her work and the challenges she and her students face.
“It was nice to hear her devotion and passion for helping her students,” says Rimmerman. “It gave our students a chance to interact with a William Smith graduate who’s found her niche – she is so passionate and committed to inner city education.”
Farnham enjoyed having the HWS students see her school and speak with her. “I think it was an exciting opportunity,” she says. “We talked about teacher certification, teaching the population we serve (which is mostly a minority population), and alternative route certification programs and how they’re impacting our educational programs. We also discussed retention and attraction issues in urban settings and the recent teacher’s strike in Chicago, which had a lot to do with how teachers are evaluated – by the same evaluation process as ours in D.C.”
She noted Tyler Elementary is a Title I school, meaning more than 65 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch. The school also provides free breakfast and hosts an after-school care program until 6 p.m. that also includes a meal.
Farnham found the HWS students were most surprised when they talked about Tyler Elementary’s test scores – ranked in the bottom 40 worse schools in D.C.
She points out, “They were told this after they’d gone around and seen the nice facility, a clean, remodeled and up-to-date building and both the fifth grade and preK classes. Despite the fact that it looks like it’s achieving at high levels, the average is 30 percent proficiency scores on testing. We’re also pushing literacy because identified many well below the grade level. They may be able to solve a math problem, but they can’t read the directions at the top of the paper.”
Having earned her B.A. in public policy, with minors in education and psychology, Farnham arrived in Washington as part of the D.C. Teaching Fellows Program, an alternate-route certification program. She is now certified in early childhood education from preKindergarten through third grade and is working toward her master’s in curriculum and instruction at American University. Her focus is educational policy and leadership.
She describes the courses she took with Rimmerman, who was also her adviser, as focused on education policy and the achievement gap between students who are poor or minorities. They also looked at No Child Left Behind, testing and accountability and school funding.
“Policy and urban education is where I want to be,” says Farnham. “I might want to work for the Department of Education, but I’m not sure I’d be satisfied away from the students and the actual work on the ground.”
During the class visit, she had the opportunity to speak with one of Rimmerman’s students who was interning at the Department of Education for the semester and they discussed the different types of work between the classroom and administrative settings.
The visit ended on what Rimmerman describes as a “very hopeful note. Students got to see a William Smith student who so values her undergraduate education that she’s trying to make a difference in the lives of children who most likely won’t have the same opportunities.”
In the photo above, Washington Public Policy Program students and faculty pose with Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen ’69, who they met for a discussion of current political issues.