Friday, April 18, 2014

Non-profit seeks reform

David Leite, a student at Liberty University, brought Students for Education Reform (SFER) to the campus of Liberty University Feb. 10, 2012.

United — Members of the Liberty SFER chapter pose together. Photo provided

Leite was watching “Waiting for Superman,” a movie about making a difference through education in the United States of America, when he noticed a phone number for viewers interested in making a difference.

That number connected Leite to SFER, a nonprofit organization that supports student groups on 60 college campuses across the country and gives students a voice in the policymaking process, according to a White House press release.

“I realized the network they have, and that it would be good for Liberty University to be involved,” Leite said.

According to the White House press release, Princeton University undergraduate students Catharine Bellinger and Alexis Morin founded SFER when they realized that young people had never been seriously and systematically involved with education reform.

Morin said that SFER grew quickly, putting together a board of directors and raising money at an enviable pace.

“We left Princeton early to focus full-time on the organization in 2012,” Morin said. “I have returned to school now, but the co-founder (Catharine Bellinger) is still putting all of her focus into SFER.”

According to the White House press release, each SFER chapter addresses what they consider to be issues in their local schools, partnering with local tutoring organizations and placing student teachers and interns in high-need public schools.

Leite said that the Liberty chapter partners with Lynchburg City Schools to help teachers and engages Virginia politicians for beneficial school bills.

Shortly after Leite brought SFER to Liberty, SFERLU became the chapter cabinet in Virginia. Liberty student Katie Hoffmeyer, an SFERLU member, applied to be the state coalition captain for Virginia’s five chapters and was chosen.

“I decided to apply for state coalition captain, but I wasn’t sure how good my chances were because of my lack of time spent in the organization,” Hoffmeyer said. “God is good, though, and he opened that door for me.”

Hoffmeyer’s position has made SFERLU responsible for coordinating events with all of the chapters in Virginia.

“In April, we will be hosting a walk for education here in Lynchburg to benefit the Lynchburg City Public Schools,” Hoffmeyer said. “We will invite the other Virginia chapters to attend.”

According to Leite, every two weeks, the organization receives five or more internship opportunities for students.

The Liberty University chapter is one of 130 chapters across the United States that has helped SFER develop into what TIME Magazine describes as a large, reputable non-profit organization.

“We have grown tremendously in the last year,” Morin said. “In addition to our established chapters, we now have student-organizing campaigns for establishing new chapters in eight states.”

Every semester, SFER holds a summit to discuss education reform. According to Leite, eight schools attended the last summit at Harvard University. Liberty sent three representatives.

Leite also said that he wants to help SFERLU host its own event in April.
“I am hoping to host a big event here on campus at the end of April with the Lynchburg City Schools superintendent, the founders of the organization and a few leaders in education reform, among others,” Leite said. “We are also hoping that other schools with chapters will come to the event.”

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