My name is Melissa Merin and I am a long-time early childhood educator in the SF/Bay Area. I'm a serious student, a friend, former rocker, and a mother to an incoming seventh grader. I'm also an active participant in the world of education and social justice. I read and write and study, a lot.
Currently I attend graduate school at Mills College in Oakland, CA in the Educational Leadership program, and I'm launching this campaign because I need help paying for my final year of school.
Dude, just get a job.
Truth is I've always had a job - since I was 15 actually. I worked through community college and I saved up a few hundred dollars to move to SF. I saved more money and enrolled in SF State, working the whole time I was there. I left State for about 12 years, working with kids in preschool, Kinder and elementary ed. I was working at the very beginning of graduate school. The reality is that in order for me to do a good job in school and to be able to support my family at home, I had to stop working. I'm happy to talk more about this hard and personal decision in person or in a private forum, but please trust that the decision not to work was not an easy one and is the best one for the family right now.
But why should you help me?
I recognize that grad school is a privilege and a choice that I made. I made this choice because 20+ years of professional experience and dedicated expertise in the fields of early childhood education, peaceful socialization, conflict resolution, and trauma-informed and restorative discipline practices means that as a Black woman at almost 39 years old, I cannot get a job that pays a living wage here to do what I do - and do incredibly well - in the field of education without a Master's degree. Graduate school is a necessary component that I can't afford to be without if I mean to continue my work.
Okay, but why 30K?
Mills School of Ed link
Because asking for 40 seemed too much? Tuition is about $38,000. I have a loan to help cover about 5% of the remaining year.
But what is my work again?
(the long answer)
I've worked with kids for over 20 years and my main focus has been around early childhood and elementary-aged kids in public school, so pre-K to 5th/6th grade. Before I entered Mills I was working at a public school in SF's south-east with 400+ students of varying backgrounds, languages and abilities. I was the school behavior coach and restorative practitioner, working with students around social and emotional coping skills predominantly. I also worked with teachers to help them build their coping skills and teaching practices; I worked with families and administrators around implementing sound, logical and restorative discipline practices both at home and at school. My work in and out of schools is highly regarded and I've wanted to expand the scope of my work.
Why is this important though? (The long answer)
I was THAT KID who was always targeted for my bad behavior, even when I was on my best, and if it weren't for a handful of adults who really believed that I wanted to learn, I would never have embraced education and learning in any form. Adverse experiences kept me from completing my undergraduate degree until very recently, but I never stopped pursuing an education. No one does this stuff alone though and were it not for the folks who saw me and believed in me, there's no telling where I might be, though statistics tell a pretty bleak and predictable story for thousands of Black girls like the one I was.
(Baby me before my bad reputation, and my momma.)
I see students everyday being pushed out of their classrooms and schools, their families left isolated and adrift with no helpful guidance. I've seen many well-meaning teachers and administrators who don't know how to be culturally competent or humble or how to be accountable to students and their families. I've watched as folks do real damage to students, alienating them from their education, leaving kids believing that education is useless and cannot serve them.
I believe that there are concrete ways to fix this, and I'm excited to use my research and work to advocate for a hard shift in prioritizing social and emotional well-being in education at the earliest years, while also promoting the types of culturally responsive and transformative positive discipline practices that we know make a profound impact in students' ability to learn and teachers' ability to teach. I'm so dedicated to this work that I went back to school in late 2015 in spite of an incredibly negative previous undergrad experience. I finished my BA, then applied to and was accepted to Mills College for their Educational Leadership program in 2016.
But why Mills? Why not somewhere...cheaper?
I want to do work that is not being done on a broad scale, and Mills is giving me the support I need to build research and craft practices that focus on Black girls in elementary education. My professors are deep critical thinkers and my cohort is full of people who look like me with similar educational experiences - something I've never encountered before throughout my education. I'm working on a pilot project right now that will go to the IRB in December, 2017 which will investigate the experiences of school-aged Black girls and their families around school discipline, with an emphasis on the role that restorative practices can and possibly should play to make a significant improvement on their school outcomes. My advisors are irreplaceable.
What are the social implications of this work?
There is currently a national focus on disproportional punishment, the so-called "school to prision pipeline", and "push-out" in schools, particularly as it relates to older Black and Brown youth. We are at a place right now where educators, activists and scholars need to widen the focus to specifically include Black girls in elementary education. The growing body of research surrounding Black girls and what I term disproportional punitive discipline tends to center the late-middle school and high school youth experiences, with particular attention being paid to Black and Brown youth contact with the criminal justice system. Most of that research and policy focuses almost exclusively on male-identified youth.
This is important and urgent work, as more and more of our young Black women are being pushed out of education and into contact with the criminal justice system. But this current work misses something important. These girls are having experiences with implicit and explicit bias, teachers who lack cultural humility, and curriculum that is deeply unresponsive to their needs long BEFORE they reach middle and high school. Currently there is so little research and pedagogical work focused specifically on Black girls and their experiences in elementary school, yet such research could make a powerful impact on these girls' trajectory through middle and high school. I intend to continue the practical work and the research
needed to develop these shifts.
This work is deeply personal to me. I was these girls. They are my former and future students, and they are my daughter and her friends. This is the kind of work that can effect whole communities and make positive impacts socially, emotionally and academically for many, many young people and our communities.
With my background and my knowledge set, the loving support of my family and my community, and this degree, I can do it - we can do it - and you can help!
It's a lot of money and I'm incredibly grateful for any help that you can give, and any signal boosting you can do!
Yours in the struggle,
(Me, the kiddo and my partner in all things)
- Thomas Foote
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