William Fearn ’93: Closing the Achievement Gap for Historically Underprivileged Students

This post is an excerpt from Making a Difference in Education, a story featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Among Friends magazine. 


William Fearn ’93

  • B.A. Mount Saint Mary’s College
  • J.D. Rutgers University School of Law, Constitutional Law and Federal Indian Law
  • Science and Social Studies Teacher, Brentwood Middle School, Loveland, CO

How did you discover your talent for teaching middle school students?

During my senior year of college, I looked into a variety of different volunteer opportunities. I found information about Red Cloud Indian School’s volunteer program, and once I began working in their classrooms I caught the “teaching bug.” After three years as a volunteer teacher, I used an AmeriCorps stipend to enroll in law school. I completed my clerkship in the Tribal Courts, working with juvenile offenders, and eventually felt that I had a more profound positive impact on children’s lives as a teacher. After conducting research for a time at a mortgage firm, I found myself longing to get back into the classroom. I missed the community and culture on the Reservation, and the sense of meaning that comes with spending life as an educator. I enrolled in education courses and returned to Red Cloud as a full-time teacher.

What matters to you most in your line of work?

During my career as a teacher, I have worked primarily with Native American and Hispanic students in high-poverty communities. I am passionate about providing socio-economically disadvantaged students with the same opportunities that others take for granted. At the school where I teach now, students are primarily Spanish- speaking and more than 76 percent receive free or reduced-cost lunch.

What do you do on a daily basis at Brentwood Middle School?

I am currently chair of the Social Studies department at Brentwood, and I teach Geography, World History, and U.S. History. I have also taught Physical Science and Biology. I’m currently an Advanced Via Individual Determination (AVID) instructor, and I have worked with the U.S. Department of Education GEAR UP Grant in the past — both of these are college readiness programs that work to close the achievement gap for historically underprivileged students.
The AVID elective class at Brentwood helps sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students prepare for high school and college. I teach organizational and note-taking skills as well as how to take on leadership roles, how to work in collaborative groups, and how to take responsibility for their own learning.

How did your time at MFS affect your trajectory?

I really feel that my experiences at MFS engendered a drive to make a difference through service. I first became involved in the Care Walks (homeless outreach) through MFS, and that experience led me to take a more active role in issues I felt ardent about. I spearheaded the Gulf War Study Day Committee in 1991, was on the Diversity Day Coordinating Committee in 1992, and was a member of the Religious Life Committee throughout Upper School. My senior Intensive Learning experience was with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and that also helped me to appreciate how a small group of dedicated people can have a major impact.

How would you describe your educational philosophy?

I realize it’s a cliché, but I truly feel that the goal of education should not be teaching students what to think, but rather how to think for themselves. That has been one of the most enduring gifts I’ve treasured from my own experience at MFS.

Did any faculty or staff members have an impact on your career?

Several of my former teachers at MFS had a significant impact on me, including Chuck Boothby, Marge Overholt, Michael Omilian, and Matt Baird. They transformed my view of education into a life-long curiosity about the world. They challenged my ideas and assumptions, and I feel that I grew tremendously as a result. I think I’m in education in part because I would like to be the spark that might help to kindle that kind of fire in others.

 

Read More Interviews: Alumni in Education