College grad’s search for work emblematic of her generation

MIDDLEBURY — When Megan Nesbeth graduated from Middlebury College last spring, she didn’t know exactly what the next year would hold. Now, still living in Middlebury, she’s accepted a job with the Institute for Democratic Education in America, or IDEA, a national nonprofit that aims to transform public education. The future still isn’t totally clear, but both IDEA and Nesbeth have high hopes for the initiatives.
“I am excited to be a part of showcasing the great works of students and teachers across our communities,” said Nesbeth. “I can’t wait to see the possibilities that we will create together.”
Nesbeth also will continue to work in the Middlebury College admissions office and is responsible for visiting schools across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, as well as reading applications.
Nesbeth was selected to join an IDEA team of 26 organizers in the National Team for Strategic Change in Public Education. She writes editorial content for the IDEA website and blog, profiles the work of three other IDEA employees in Vermont and is building an inventory of “what works in alternative education.”
“My work is a little more hands-off and less based in a specific place, but in some ways it’s important that I work in Vermont,” Nesbeth said. “IDEA has a wide spread of people, and we all do a little bit of everything, so it’s good to have me here.”
IDEA was publicly unveiled in May of 2010, and has great aspirations for its work across the country. Scott Nine, IDEA’s executive director, spoke in broad strokes of the organization’s work.
“IDEA organizers are taking down the silos that permeate the educational landscape, and they’re replacing them with bridges,” he said. “They are creating a new model of collaborative organizing that makes the critical connections necessary for strategic, collaborative, and sustainable change.”
Nesbeth offered her take on the organization.
“It’s about bringing meaningful education to more students,” she said. “We’re creating project-based learning to give students the chance to get out of the classroom — for middle school students to do the types of internships that might be expected of a high schooler or college student.”
This type of work is well-established in private schools, but Nesbeth is most excited about bringing the same initiatives to the public system.
“We work with public education systems that are already there. We’re not building new schools, we’re networking our programs into the existing structure,” she said. “What I’m really excited about is profiling private school projects brought to the public school system. The sort of thing that already works really well in a paid environment, but transitioning that to public education.”
Nesbeth cited the Big Picture Learning Program, an alternative school focusing on “authentic” and “relevant” learning. Big Picture has a school in South Burlington.
“They have a set of skills that students demonstrate before they graduate high school, and they focus on learning through internships,” she said.
Nesbeth majored in sociology and anthropology at Middlebury College, but only started taking education classes in her senior year.
“I knew I’d work in communications,” she said, “but I didn’t think I’d focus so much on education.”

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