My Research Network: Highlighting intersectionality across disciplines 

When I consider the very purpose of this fellowship, the leading word that comes to mind is community. Community in researching, community in sharing and discussing results, and ultimately, community in forging two-way partnerships, learning from the firsthand, lived experiences of my community partners. For any research endeavor to be successful, it is paramount that community is not only respected, but strived for in every aspect. Without my research network, my project would look a lot different—and for the worse.

My own network is composed of two cohorts of people. At one end, I receive valuable and formative advice from my faculty mentors, Dr. Esohe Osai and Dr. Shanyce Campbell from Justice Scholars Institute (JSI). On the other end, my mentors at A+Schools Pittsburgh, namely, Dr. Kaitlyn Brennan and James Fogarty provide me with insights relating to the policy end of education. Dr. Brennan fills me in on the current legislation being passed and proposed in Washington, D.C. which allows me to then reflect, and make sure that my own policy brief that I’m researching towards builds off current policies and statutes. Through communicating with James, I am able to better understand Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) focused policy, and more specifically, policy relating to the requirements of admission into gifted education and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Newly, I have joined in on meetings with A+Schools to brainstorm with working groups already researching methods to lessen chronic absenteeism—often considered to be a huge factor in furthering already existing educational disparities. My fellow research colleague, Megan Hanlon, and I frequently bounce ideas off of each other and share our learning. Having Megan as a part of my network has been a huge resource. She has led me to consider different aspects that contribute to curriculum disparities, as her work centers around tutoring and academic supports.

Even though my individual research is more closely focused on educational disparities in curriculum, by working across fields and disciplines, I have started creating parallels, which will prove to be important as I dive into my work on suggesting policy implementations across PPS. Perhaps some of the best insight I received these past weeks came from Dr. Brennan as she cautioned me to avoid creating policy that only holds one individual accountable. To provide further context, I was explaining the research I found which shows the power academic counselors have to “gatekeep” students from participating in AP and gifted classes. I had suggested that these counselors should be held accountable yearly by undergoing “recommendation reviews” which breakdown the demographic data of which students are being recommended into advanced classes and which are being placed in remedial. She made the great point that although much of the power to recommend students lies in the hands of the counselors, they receive input from classroom teachers and other entities which many times reaffirm their behavior. Instead, she suggested that I research schoolwide, cultural climate policies which aim to inhibit implicit bias across the board, instead of just targeting the individual counselor. This advice allowed me to research into professional development requirements by district and has ultimately broadened my own understanding of the interconnected nature of how schools operate. This just goes to show how priceless it can be to research across disciplines.

Outside of the policy domain, I have also started to delve into the data visualization space. Through readings and discussions with my fellowship cohort, another important group in my research network, I have gained better insights on how to present data in not only a meaningful way, but also in an accurate and community-respectful manner. As the focus of my research deals with educational disparities impacting Black students, I am paying close attention to avoid presenting my data in a way that presents White students as “the norm” or “the standard” for which Black students are compared to. Instead, I am starting to pay close attention to things like the way I order the racial identities I include on the side of infographics, the images and icons I include, and even which colors (and color themes) I rely on to represent the data. I will be pulling data from PPS closely related to AP and the Gifted Individualized Educational Plan (IEP – a form of Special Education). From PPS’ website,  The Public District Dashboards and Enrollment Summary pages have proved to be very helpful resources as I craft my infographic.

This summer, I hope to engage in more opportunities that challenge my understanding of educational policy and allow me to consider different avenues of addressing curriculum disparities. As a student in Pitt’s School of Education (SOE), many of my classes center around critical and culturally relevant pedagogy which has greatly helped me frame my research. Although my major is specific to early childhood education, I have been able to draw many parallels from our assigned readings to higher, postsecondary education. For example, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) was one of the first readings I read in my Social Foundations of Education class, and similarly, one of the first readings our fellowship cohort discussed. I was able to apply Freire’s problem-posing education, instead of the more ineffective style of banking education, when considering how I might implement policy that values and affirms students’ identities and cultures—something so integral in working against educational disparities, especially in curriculum. I have started to notice that my research not only goes hand in hand with the pedagogy we read about in class, but it also builds off it. I would describe my work with the SOE to provide the more theoretical and conceptual foundation to my research, while this fellowship takes what I’ve learnt in class and encourages me to apply it in practice as I research policy. As I research between the practical side of policy and the more theoretical side of pedagogy, I have found that the two very much go hand-in-hand. Policy informs practice, the same way practice can influence and inspire policy and policy reforms.

Reflecting on my research experience so far, I can confidently say that working across disciplines has broadened my educational horizons and has made me more vigilant and conscious of how policies (that even I was subject to when engaging in my own secondary education) can be reformed. Going forward, I would love to forge more connections with those in the policy side of education, specifically related to curriculum. Another important set of connections and relationships I am striving to build are with the students who are the most greatly impacted by the policy. I strongly believe that the most long-lasting and influential changes can be made when we value and affirm the lived experiences of those affected by legislature passed down from “the top.” Thus, I am working towards better understanding the experience of curriculum disparities lived by students in PPS to make sure my policy is not only effective but reflective too.


[National Center for Education Research: Research Networks]. Institute of Education Sciences.  

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