Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Advocating for others

“It’s clear to me that students from underrepresented backgrounds are left out of the picture when it comes to education and success,” says Kristine Specht '21, who is earning a Master of Arts in Education, Learning and Teaching (MALT) through the University of Redlands School of Education. (Photo by Coco McKown '04, '10)

As a single mom at 17, Kristine Specht ’21 learned the importance of advocating for herself and others. As the parent of a child with special needs, she spent years fighting for her son’s educational opportunities. Instead of becoming discouraged by the process, Specht decided to enroll at the University of Redlands School of Education so she could help other underrepresented students.

“It’s clear to me that students from underrepresented backgrounds are left out of the picture when it comes to education and success,” says Specht, who is earning a Master of Arts in Education, Learning and Teaching (MALT). “There’s an obvious gap between students who are marginalized and those who aren’t, and I want to help parents understand how crucial it is for them to advocate for their students.”

Rather than looking to a diagnosis and medication as the only answer, Specht encouraged her son’s teachers to understand his needs and work to create a learning environment where he would be successful. Specht recalls the exhausting experience of learning about and fighting for an individualized education program (IEP) that would outline the personalized instruction and support her son would receive as a student eligible for special education.

“It was important to me that I turn that advocacy into something positive,” she says. “I can’t imagine how things would have turned out if I had been less persistent.”

Recently hired as a substitute teacher for the Redlands Unified School District, Specht says she chose to enroll at the University of Redlands because the program was flexible with her work schedule at a time when she was working a temporary employee for UCPath, the payroll and benefits organization for the University of California system.

She also appreciates the School of Education’s emphasis on educational justice and equity. “The murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed put me in a place where I felt that I needed to do something,” she says. “Enrolling was the perfect opportunity to take steps to make the world better.”

That emphasis has been apparent in each of the courses she has taken in the program, where professors often speak to current events in order to strengthen their teaching objectives. Specht, who hopes to teach high school-level English, notes that the books she is reading and the discussions she has with her classmates have led to emotional exploration and mutual encouragement among participants, even in a virtual setting.

In one of U of R Professor Brian Charest’s courses, the class read Gregory Michie’s Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students (Teachers College Press), which illustrates the author’s experiences teaching in Chicago. It provided a well of inspiration for Specht, who understood it as a message of encouragement, revealing to readers the ways in which Michie was still able to implement his teaching ideals in a classroom in which a complex mix of external forces were at play in his students’ lives.

Specht has come to enjoy Charest’s courses and says that he has had an impact on her during her time at Redlands. “He’s very approachable and sets aside time for students to talk to him, even in a virtual classroom, which allows us to relate to him more deeply and form a sense of trust,” she says.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Specht’s daughter, who is in second grade, has been engaging in distance learning at home, which has provided an interesting perspective. Specht maintains that, while it may not be the most sustainable learning environment long-term, virtual learning gives parents the opportunity to better understand what their children are learning. Over the course of the pandemic, Specht has witnessed examples of successful teaching strategies through her daughter’s screen, and she hopes to implement them in her own classroom in the future.

“I didn’t expect my master’s program to be so in-depth or to address so many issues and concerns in education,” she says. “I want to challenge my students not just to think about a subject, but to interact with social topics and cultural diversity in innovative ways. The School of Education is helping me pinpoint exactly what I hope to address as a teacher.”

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