Atnre Alleyne joined the 50CAN fellowship in the spring of 2016. One month into his fellowship, he joined the rest of the class in Phoenix to develop his strategic plan for advocacy in Delaware and hear what the other fellows are learning. Today he shares his vision for the future of First State schools.
Why did you join the 50CAN fellowship?
After four years working at the Delaware Department of Education it was clear that with the right policies we can transform educational opportunities and life outcomes for Delaware’s 125,000+ students. My work at the DDOE also gave me great insight into how commonsense policies that can strengthen the education system are often deprioritized as a result of adult politics. I joined the fellowship because I see the potential to inform and engage a wider, and more diverse, set of stakeholders in the education policy process. The fellowship seemed like a great next step given my policy work and role as the founder of the college prep organization TeenSHARP.
What’s the best thing about attending a Delaware school right now?
I’m most excited about the many great programs and options within various schools in Delaware. A number of Delaware schools now offer half-day instruction in Spanish or Chinese, beginning in kindergarten, as part of the governor’s World Language Immersion initiative. Brandywine School District offers an International Baccalaureate program. The state’s largest high school (William Penn) offers three academies (business, humanities and STEM) for its students. Students from Thomas Edison Charter School are regularly national champions in chess. We have vocational schools with great partnerships with industry and schools tailored to various special needs of Delaware students. These are great opportunities in a small state like Delaware and there is untapped potential to expand and learn from these programs.
What’s the greatest challenge facing Delaware students today?
One of the greatest challenges facing Delaware students is that many of the adults around them in their schools and communities do not set high enough expectations for them. In a 2015 state survey, 37 percent of teacher respondents (with over 4000 responses) agreed that “the amount a student can learn is primarily related to family background.” There is a deep deference to poverty that is deceptive in Delaware—it makes many think students in poverty deserve a lower set of expectations. The need for higher expectations transcends socioeconomic status, however. We need to believe students can be self-directed learners and that they should have a voice in the policy process. We need more recognition of the global competition our students will face as they leave the K-12 system and enter the workforce.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
My high school literature teacher at Achimota in Ghana was my favorite teacher. I don’t remember his real name (we used to call him Ringo) but he was skillful in telling jokes to help us understand literary devices and concepts. We used to cheer for him when he walked into class. His dramatic reading of various texts made class exciting and motivated us to love literature. My penchant for poetry and creative writing grew even stronger as a result of Ringo’s class.
What do you hope to accomplish with the fellowship?
I hope to speak with hundreds of stakeholders across the state about the education system and what they believe would make the system better. I would like to learn from them about the gaps in Delaware’s advocacy ecosystem and leverage these insights to craft an advocacy agenda. I intend to launch an education advocacy organization at the end of the fellowship.