Hannah Powell ’03
Looks To Level The Educational Playing Field For All Kids
As a senior majoring in communications, Hannah Powell had some good ideas about what path she might take after college. Her experience helping homeless children with their homework at Springfield’s Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) as part of her community service requirement at Wittenberg, however, changed her direction. Struck by their struggles and with the apparent inequities in the education system, she applied to Teach for America. By the summer, she was working for Teach for America in south central Los Angeles followed by two years in Philadelphia teaching in one of the most under performing schools in the city.
“The more I learned, the more insatiable my hunger got for trying to find a solution to this gap that exists in our country between low-income kids and kids from a higher socio-economic status,” she says. “I became angry by the inequities that I saw with my students and their families, but I also was inspired by what was possible when kids were given what they needed to be successful.”
A mere seven years after graduating, Powell has a master of education, several years of teaching and education administration experience, and is now the school director for the KIPP Journey Academy in Columbus, Ohio. While teaching in Philadelphia, she was named “Staff Member of the Month” twice by faculty peers, and her students achieved the school’s highest rate of proficiency on the state test in reading and writing. She takes as inspiration the children she has taught and continues to work with, many of whom face unimaginable struggles.
“I saw their drive to learn once they were given the opportunity. And I saw that you can harness their grit and resiliency to empower them and help them become engaged in school and in their community.”
Driven by an almost moral sense of responsibility, Powell is most interested in getting down to business. For her, that means learning from others and, together, figuring out what makes good schools work.
“We need to stop talking about the problems and start doing something about it yesterday,” she says.
While she notes that the outstanding results of KIPP schools across the country speak for themselves, she stresses that pitting one educational method against another is counter-productive – every child is different. What is important is moving from rhetoric to real change.
“I have seen change, and it starts with teaching and learning,” Powell says. “When given the space and education they so deserve, almost without fail, children will rise to the highest expectations.”