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TFA lecture challenges education status quo

Instead of getting a complete list of steps to fix educational opportunity gaps, students who attended Robyn Fehrman's lecture Tuesday night were introduced to the intrinsic complexities of creating a better educational system. 

Fehrman, executive director of Teach for America for eastern North Carolina, was invited to campus by APPLES — UNC's student-led program that seeks to connect academic learning and public service. She spoke of her experience working on educational equity following her time at UNC. 

“It’s not a silver bullet, it’s not one thing that it takes to make real change in the world," Fehrman said. "It takes a whole ecosystem — lots of things working together in order to make change."

Radha Patel, organizer of APPLES' Alumni Speaker Series, said she hoped the audience would leave Fehrman's talk with a deeper understanding of North Carolina's problematic state of education.

“We are going to talk a little bit around what our hypothesis is on why we, specifically, are having a significant inequitable education in eastern North Carolina," Fehrman said.

She brought up numerous problems the state is facing, including poverty, teacher shortages, the normalization of focusing on graduation rates instead of career readiness, the oppression for people of color and the “insidious” idea that there is no real problem.

Fehrman said a problem in current education is that, for students to succeed in eastern North Carolina, they have to be exceptional to move from lower to top income brackets.  

"(Eastern North Carolina students) are not performing at the capacities they're capable of," she said. "When they are given the opportunities, they knock it out of the park."

Morgan McLaughlin, a junior public policy and political science double major, said each issue is deeply complex.

“We have low teacher pay, we have high teacher turnover rates, we have very high opportunity gaps and just a decent graduation rate," she said. "There’s layers of what is causing all these issues."

Fehrman said these issues were not easy to fix and education alone is not enough to fix the problem.

The state needs inclusive and door-opening education, but also economic mobility and an empowerment ecosystem, she said.

“All of this needs to be swimming in a world where we are actively working to be more anti-racist,” she said.

Patel said APPLES also wanted to show students they can do more after they leave UNC. 

“We want to increase communication between alumni and students,” said Patel. “I hope that the students realize that they, too, can continue to serve after graduation.”

Audience members like McLaughlin reaffirmed Fehrman’s belief that education equity is an important issue.

“I loved it,” McLaughlin said. “I think it’s super important to talk about equal access to opportunity in regards to education.”

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