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Sophia Pappas MPP 2010 went from standing in front of the black board to sitting behind a school desk when she left her job as a pre-kindergarten teacher in Newark, New Jersey, to join the Harvard Kennedy School’s Master in Public Policy program. Pappas, former Director of Growth and Development for Teach For America’s early childhood education initiative, said she wanted to situate her classroom experience within a larger policy context and learn how to use policies to eradicate educational inequity in the United States.
“Children lose out when ideologically driven arguments preclude us from supporting the development of effective instructional and school models,” Pappas said. “The high stakes of failure for the lives of individual children and society as a whole behoove us to analyze the prospects and limitations of a wide range of approaches with a pragmatic eye.”
Pappas, who is from Manhasset, New York, received a bachelor’s in government from Georgetown University in 2003 and then moved on to join Teach For America in Newark. Her passion for teaching pre-kindergarten motivated her to lead Teach For America’s country-wide initiative to expand its presence in pre-kindergarten and Head Start classrooms.
“We have focused our education investments primarily in K-12 when more than 80 percent of the brain is developed before the age of 5 and low income students are already behind their more affluent peers before kindergarten starts,” Pappas said. “The investments we make and standards we establish for student learning and teacher qualifications need to further a more seamless and value-adding pre-K-16 continuum.”
Pappas said she chose to attend Harvard Kennedy School because of the option to actively apply the curriculum in situations like the Spring Exercise and the Policy Analysis Exercise. She was also enticed by the opportunity to interact with a broad group of students and apply their experiences to her goals: “The diversity of HKS, including a large percentage of international students and students from a wide range of professional areas and policy interest areas, challenges me to think about education and other policies in different ways.”
Recently, Pappas took part in the Women and Public Policy Program’s “From Harvard Square to the Oval Office” program where a select group of students is given training and support to prepare for electoral races on the local, state-wide and national-level.
“The program provided me with a sense of clarity about the importance of running for office and concrete steps I need to take starting now to achieve that goal,” said Pappas. “As a pre-K teacher, I developed firsthand insights into the societal injustices I want to rectify. Thanks to the Oval Office program, I now have the tools to attain the influence needed to translate those insights into systemic change.”
When Pappas graduates in 2010, she hopes to combine her passion for education with her knowledge of government to continue to improve the quality of early childhood education.
Sophia Pappas in the classroom. Pappas hopes to continue her work in education and education policy after her time at Harvard Kennedy School. Photo provided.
"Based on my Pre-K Now blog, my book Good Morning, Children provides an up-close and personal view of the challenges and successes of a beginning teacher. The book describes daily encounters with students, family members, and administrators; reflects on the state of early childhood education in America; and celebrates the ways pre-K teachers can help prepare every child to succeed in both school and life." - Sophia Pappas