Rhodes senior Madison Treas attended both private and public schools in the Memphis area, giving her a birds-eye view of disparities in the classroom. But through the Educational Studies program at Rhodes, she has deepened her understanding of the effects of privilege and poverty in school systems.
Through an urban studies course that ties to her educational studies major, Treas was able to interview teachers from schools in the Memphis area in order to gain insight into inequalities in the classroom based on school location and environment, students’ socio-economic backgrounds, and educational opportunities being offered. The data Treas collected uncovered large disparities between urban and suburban schools in the areas of resources funded, academic performance, and the home lives of the student populations—but she also found that many teachers are unaware of these systemic issues.
In the area of monetary resources, Treas used teachers’ salaries to show how students’ academic performance is affected. For example, in the Germantown Municipal School District, teachers are paid $79,000 per year on average, whereas in the Shelby County Schools district, teachers are paid $49,000 per year on average, according to GreatSchools.com. And in Germantown schools, students are 100 percent above the state average in academic performance while in Shelby County that number is only 9 percent.
“I don’t think people are talking enough about these issues,” says Treas. “I hope that we as a community can start delving deeper into finding solutions that will create equal education for all students.”
Treas is in the teaching and learning track of the Educational Studies program, which supports students interested in entering the teaching profession as teachers or administrators and those interested in seeking licensure. The program also includes tracks in community and social change and policy and reform, and it is designed to prepare students to become educators and advocates who learn theory and research in the classroom while working in a number of diverse school settings. Treas has taught subjects ranging from math, English, physical education, art, and music at local elementary schools, including Snowden Bruce, Springdale, Idlewild, Sea Isle, and Cordova. She currently is working with students in special education at Parkway Village Elementary.
“My advisor, Dr. Zachary Casey, has been an awesome guide through this process,” says Treas. “The Rhodes Educational Studies Program aims to prepare students how to be open-minded teachers and to cater to students of all backgrounds. Also, because Rhodes is a liberal arts college, I’ve been given the opportunity to take courses outside of my major, such as Philosophy of Race, taught in the philosophy department, and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, taught in history.”
Treas plans to remain at Rhodes an extra semester after her May 2020 graduation to gain her teaching licensure, guaranteeing her a position in the Shelby County Schools district. For the future, Treas sees the classroom as a possible stepping stone for diving into policy work to better the system for more than one child at a time.
By Meg Jerit ’20