Students for Educational Reform Emerson chapter created

by Mike Disman / Beacon Staff • February 16, 2012

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SFER members Donovan Birch Jr. and Sharon Sweeney said they want to raise awareness of the education gap in America.
SFER members Donovan Birch Jr. and Sharon Sweeney said they want to raise awareness of the education gap in America.

Three students have united to create an Emerson chapter of Students for Educational Reform, to combat what they feel is a flawed public education system. 

Students for Educational Reform Co-Vice Presidents Donovan Birch Jr., Shannon Sweeny, and Chapter Head Erin Goodyear said they do not share each other’s viewpoints on public education. However, they all believe the negative repercussions hit closer to home than many Emerson students recognize.

“This is even more important on this campus because a lot of people are out of touch with this issue,” said Goodyear. “The problem is two blocks away, it’s right around the corner in Dorchester. We think of education as a right, but it’s not a reality.”

The students, driven to raise awareness about what they feel are the shortcomings of the education system they all graduated from, have started an Emerson chapter of Students for Educational Reform (SFER), a national organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap. 

Due to its recent creation, the Emerson chapter’s seven members rely heavily on support from the Communications, Politics and Law Association and members of other SFER chapters to get their feet on the ground.

The group will make progress by hosting its first event on Monday, Feb. 20. This will be a screening of Waiting for Superman, a documentary that centers around the ongoing debate of the balance between public and charter schools, a topic that hits close to home for Birch, Sweeny, and Goodyear.

Birch, who attended Boston Preparatory Charter School, said his charter school education helped him excel in his first year of college.  

“I acclimated so easily to Emerson,” said Birch. “I’m prepared. I’m waiting for my peers to catch up. I feel like it’s given me the ability to do all I want to do.” 

Goodyear and Sweeny, who both attended public high school, said they felt unprepared when they first came to Emerson. 

Sweeny, who attended Timberlane Regional High School in suburban New Hampshire, said her school was academically inconsistent. While she was strong in math and science, Sweeny said she could not write a proper essay when she first came to Emerson.

“I had a very, very hard freshman year,” said Sweeny, who also attended high school in a public school system. “A lot of kids came in from public school, like I did, but had a way more comprehensive education.”

Goodyear, a freshman communication studies major, said she sees the need for change both at the public high school she attended in Arkansas and the sixth grade students she tutors at Smith Leadership Academy in Dorchester as an employee of Tutors for All.

“My high school lacked a lot of the resources that it should have had,” said Goodyear. “We only had one foreign language option and struggling math and science departments. It just didn’t feel like the best.”

Goodyear said that the struggle many of her students face when doing schoolwork is obvious, and their progress lags far behind other sixth graders.

“They really struggle with long division, and a lot of them still finger-count,” she said. “It makes you wonder, ‘What were they doing in public school?’”

Among its stated reforms, SFER believes that changing the way teachers are seen and fostering an environment of high expectations, transparency, and accountability are important in creating an equal education system.

According to its members, Emerson’s chapter of SFER wants to model itself after Harvard University’s SFER chapter, one of the largest in the country. They will do this by focusing on local advocacy and awareness campaigns, such as visits to local schools and panel discussions.

Goodyear said college students need to be more outspoken on public education, and Emerson SFER will strive to inspire Emerson students to become more involved in fostering a better public education policy for their future children and grandchildren.

“We are college kids. We have a voice. It needs to be heard,” said Goodyear.