When a friend asked Jacqueline Greer to become a volunteer mentor for city middle school kids, she agreed only reluctantly. After working with the kids a short time, however, their education became her passion.
Greer, who graduates today from the John F. Kennedy School of Government with a master’s degree in public policy, was impressed with the drive and determination of the kids she mentored, who worked after school three days a week until 8 p.m. on math, science, and literature, bolstering their skills so they could get into better high schools. But she was also angered, she said, that the city schools were so poor that the kids needed the extra work.
“I thought, ‘Why do these students have to do that?’ I never had to do that. I lived in a suburb of Atlanta,” Greer said. “This isn’t what justice and equity look like. This is a failure. This is a systemic failure. This is a policy failure. This is a school failure.”
Greer began working with the Washington, D.C., schools, becoming a teacher recruiter, but that wasn’t enough, she said.
“You can’t implement change unless you’re at the policy level,” Greer said. “I can talk about one teacher recruitment program at one school, but at the policy level, we can talk about what works, what doesn’t, and doing it at a bigger level. I want to go from having one good teacher in one classroom to good teachers in every classroom.”
Greer said she chose the Kennedy School after being impressed when meeting several alumni.
“This is just the perfect place to go to school. You come and meet other people who want to change the world. You meet a few people who have done it,” Greer said.
During her time at Harvard, Greer said she learned a lot, from statistics to management to how to motivate people. She put those skills to work in organizing April’s Black Policy and Alumni Conference, “Speaking Truth to Power.”
Also this year, Greer took her educational activism overseas, raising funds to provide high school scholarships for two Kenyan schoolgirls.
Greer visited Kenya over the winter break, spending two weeks traveling around the African nation, meeting the scholarship recipients, touring their school, and seeing firsthand Nairobi’s Kibera slum.
Greer said the trip gave her an education about relative wealth, one that she feels would benefit U.S. children as well. Even city kids who may feel underprivileged in the United States are worried about their iPods and cell phones, she said, while $650 provides a year’s education in Kenya.
After graduation, Greer hopes to work at a foundation on educational policy. She’s also leaving open a return to Africa to continue working there on social entrepreneurship.
“I’d love to work … on how we drive the next level of educational change,” Greer said.