Xilian Sansoucy (right), who will begin her senior year at Providence’s Classical High School this fall, spent three days this summer job-shadowing Angela Romans (left), co-director of District & Systems Transformation at AISR. Xilian recently talked to us about her interest in education reform and reflected on what she learned from shadowing Angela in our offices on the Brown University campus:
I met Angela at a mock college interview sponsored by Young Voices, a youth leadership organization that I first got involved with my freshman year. My friend said, “You should really join this organization that I’m part of.” I immediately fell in love with the program, because one of the first activities that we did was called “hot shots,” where all the youth got in a circle with one youth in the middle facilitating. They would choose one person out of the circle to stand up and they’d ask them a question like, “Who is your inspiration?” And then that student would have to speak for 60 seconds on that topic. I realized that the more I was coming to Young Voices, the more I was challenging myself in terms of public speaking, learning about policy, being professional, keeping track of my dates in the calendar.
For instance, there was a big campaign that not only was Young Voices a part of, but a lot of the local youth orgs were part of. And it was about standardized testing, because at the time – I was a sophomore – the NECAP was still in play to be a graduation requirement. And it’s unfair if a student like me works hard all four years, but isn’t a good test taker. So I was really passionate and I researched the topic – I actually did my junior research presentation on it. We submitted testimonies to the Rhode Island Department of Education, along with other youth organizations. In total there were around 20 or 30 written testimonies, and three or four of us all presented our testimony. It was one of the reasons, along with pushback from parents, why now the students in all Rhode Island public schools don’t have to take the test to graduate.
One Opportunity Leads to Others
Young Voices has a model where every single year, there’s a different focus. So freshman year is dedicated to building up confidence and getting out of your shell. And then sophomore year is more about learning about policy, understanding the education system and what it lacks, what it already has, and learning who has the power. Then junior year, we start getting ready to apply to college, so that’s when we start working on mock interviews and résumés.
Young Voices worked with Angela to set up a Harvard mock interview, and I had heard a lot about her. I always say that one opportunity leads to another, so when I had the opportunity to meet Angela, I made sure after the interview was over to speak to her. I asked her about her job and it seemed really interesting, and I asked her if there was going to be some kind of internship opportunity that I could potentially do over the summer. We kept corresponding through email, and she eventually said I could do a job shadow with her. It’s not exactly an internship, but it’s a bunch of different opportunities, and I learned a lot in just the three days that I spent with Angela.
I came into the job shadow thinking that I want to major in business because I’m interested in learning new languages, and I want to travel. And so in business, I could meet new people and do presentations – because I like public speaking, I like talking. But after the three days with Angela, I learned that there’s more I could do in the world than just work at another company. And I started thinking, you know, for my entire life I’ve been in the education system, I’ve seen the best parts, I’ve seen the worst parts. I’ve been in private school, I’m in public school right now, and I thought, why shouldn’t I be able to help reform education? I’ve already worked a lot on education reform through Young Voices, so why give up now? Why don’t I just continue and do it as a career?
The Job Shadow: Networking, Data, and Cupcakes
The first day of the job shadow, Angela wanted me to help her prepare for the next day, when she had two long meetings back to back, so she asked me to make photocopies and order cupcakes. In the three days I was there, she had five long meetings, pretty much back to back. And so the second day, I attended a Children & Youth Cabinet (CYC) meeting in the morning, where I met Brown students who were in the UEP program. I told them I was interested in education reform and Brown and was wondering about the admissions process. They connected me with some undergraduates who are now giving me advice on the admissions process. So through that first meeting, I learned how to network with Brown students, and it was really productive.
Then the second meeting was a CYC meeting led by the National League of Cities, about generating ideas and analyzing data about high school students that were on track for college or not on track for college, and why. We must have looked at 20 different graphs of all these different reasons why students may not be in college or what kind of barriers there were. The last day there was another meeting, this one at Annenberg – a diversity meeting. So Angela was not at her desk at all during the time I was there, and I realized that if I want to go into the field of education reform, I’m going to be in a lot of meetings!
The Value of the Job-Shadowing Experience
Seeing Angela and actually following her throughout the day, I really got an idea of what those different meetings consist of, which ones may be more helpful than others, how she interacts with people, and that she’s really well-respected in the community. And Angela always seems to have a really defined role in the meetings, where she’s either facilitator or she’s one of the leaders in the meeting. So being able to have a job shadow with her was an honor – I couldn’t have picked a better person. She’s well respected in the national community too, since she does national conferences. So when I talk about how I wanted to do business because of the traveling, I realized that she also does a lot of traveling in the education reform field. I also learned that it’s always good to be professional with people and to be respectful and friendly, because it doesn’t even matter what kind of job you’re in, those skills are really important.
On my last day, Angela and I had a nice talk before she had to leave for another meeting. And I asked her, “What’s the most rewarding part of your job?” And she said, “Having people like you. Because that shows that there’s other young people out there who are interested in education reform.” And I told her, “I can see myself in your shoes. I can see myself working on campaigns, helping to improve the education system, making a difference.”