Righting Education’s Wrongs

Natalia Ortiz head shot photoDoctoral student Natalia Ortiz (Urban Education) is studying to be a teacher of teachers — in the hope of reaching the types of students that administrators often let slip through the cracks of an inequitable educational system.
Ortiz, who is currently finishing her dissertation, is also the training director at Border Crossers, a nonprofit that trains educators in ways to end racism and structural injustice within schools.
She is particularly focused on addressing the challenges faced by over-aged, under-credited youth: students aged 15 to 21 who have a low number of high school credits. Her interest in over-age students dates to her time at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where she completed a practicum with over-aged middle schoolers. 
“I was learning what happens with older kids,” Ortiz said. “A lot of my kids thought their situation was their choice — that they had messed up. And there are choices. But I would also help them see how they were pushed out.”

She knew she wanted to work with high school students. “I was attracted to their passion,” she said. After receiving her master’s from Harvard, Ortiz — who was born in Manhattan and raised on Roosevelt Island — worked as a teacher in Brooklyn, where she helped students receive the credits they needed for a high school diploma.

Yet she remains committed to teaching teachers. “I love teaching, and it is an amazing job,” she said. “We need teachers with critical consciousness, who understand racism and classism and how that impacts the school structure. We need to encourage talk about racism and equity prior to teaching, so teachers aren’t going in blind to schools.”

At Border Crossers, Ortiz has used role play and other applied theater techniques as a way to engage both body and mind. For her dissertation on this topic, she was recently awarded a $20,000 grant from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Ortiz plans to continue using theater techniques after she graduates. “I learned about racism through the theater of the oppressed,” she said. “We learned how to use our bodies to push through different interactions. I would love to do clinical work with teachers in schools, and to show them how they can use theater to gain an understanding of racism and to disrupt racism in classrooms.”

Photo by Rachel Ramirez


Submitted on: MAR 12, 2018

Category: General GC News | Student News | Urban Education