Reforming Public Education Top Priority for Alumni

Reforming Public Education Top Priority for Alumni

Sara DeWolf ’02 and Nicholas Boatwright ’11, Honors College alumni and advocates for equity in public education, will both attend master’s programs at Harvard Graduate School of Education this fall.

While both have experience teaching in schools, they aspire to work behind the scenes to improve public education for all students.

DeWolf, a current member of the Honors Advisory Board and co-founder of the College’s R.I.S.E. Scholarship, knew her whole life that she wanted to teach. She studied elementary education and teaching as an undergraduate in the School of Education, Health and Human Performance.

Sara Givler DeWolf ’02 with her husband and co-founder of the R.I.S.E. Scholarship, Ben ’02, in the Cistern Yard.

During her junior year, she took an Honors seminar on law and society with then-College President Alex Sanders. After working on a semester-long research project on education vouchers and school choice, DeWolf realized she had a passion for the legal side of education.

DeWolf taught for three years in Chicago and in South Carolina’s North Charleston Elementary and Dorchester District Two before enrolling in Duke University School of Law.

DeWolf continued to work with children through Duke’s Guardian ad Litem project. As a third-year student she practiced in North Carolina Family Court, working on cases of children who had been removed from their homes by the Department of Social Services.

“I got to know several of those children very well. Those were the cases that will stick with me forever,” she said.

After graduating from law school, DeWolf moved back to Charleston and practiced complex civil litigation. But after five years she was ready to return to the school system.

“My true passion was always in education,” she said.

DeWolf hopes that through Harvard’s Education Policy and Management Program, her teaching and legal backgrounds will come together in the next chapter of her career.

“I have really had two completely separate and compartmentalized careers,” DeWolf said. “I would like to combine what I have learned from each to help create positive social changes.”

DeWolf will focus on creating a more equitable, high-achieving public school system through policy change. School funding, the achievement gap and pre-kindergarten programs are all on her list of issues to take on after her one-year master’s program.

Boatwright, a biology major and Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship recipient, didn’t find his calling in education until he volunteered with Teach for America and the Honors College’s Literacy Outreach Initiative, which he helped start during his sophomore year.

Nicholas Boatwright '11 with one of his students at Orangeburg.

Nicholas Boatwright ’11 with one of his students in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

“I knew for a fact that I would never go into the classroom,” Boatwright said. “I really stood behind Teach for America and what they were doing, and I felt strongly about their core values, but I couldn’t see myself as an actual teacher.”

As an undergraduate student, Boatwright managed recruitment at the College for Teach for America.

“I ended up going on a visit to a classroom in Orangeburg and I spent time in the classroom, sat down and talked to the kids, and I realized this is actually what I have to do,” Boatwright said.

Boatwright had already applied to medical school when he decided to switch gears and apply to Teach for America. He spent four years teaching in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where he now oversees third through fifth-grade math and science teachers.

Seeing what an impact a teacher’s education and preparedness can have on their students, Boatwright decided to apply to Harvard’s School Leadership Program. He received the Leadership in Education Award, which will fully cover the cost of the year-long program.

Like DeWolf, Boatwright is passionate about creating an equitable public education system. Through his volunteer work at Sanders Clyde and other Charleston area elementary schools, he realized that not every child is afforded the same quality of education he was fortunate to have in Clemson, South Carolina.

“I got to Charleston and realized there was a huge disparity just within the city as far as what kids got based on how wealthy they were and the color of their skin, basically, and those two things are related,” he said.

After earning his master’s degree, he hopes to work on ensuring teachers at every school are well-prepared to enter the classroom.

While they share an alma mater and a passion for education, DeWolf and Boatwright have never met in person. They plan on getting together for coffee once they get settled in at Harvard. And who knows–maybe these reform-minded educators will teach each other a thing or two.

Related: Graduate education student wins scholarship by debunking the myth that math and science aren’t for girls.

This article was written by Laura Cergol, a senior from Frederick, Md. studying communication and linguistics in the Honors College at the College of Charleston. She is also a William Aiken Fellow and a member of the Global Scholars program.