Magazine Feature / People

Undergraduate to begin a career of education reform in the classroom

Charla Agnoletti believes that in order to change the world, one must start at home.

That guiding philosophy led her to the University of Denver four years ago. And after she graduates, that same philosophy will lead her to her next great adventure — teaching middle school in Denver’s public schools.

Agnoletti, who will graduate June 6 with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and sociology, was initially attracted to DU because of the school’s study abroad and community involvement opportunities.

“I was really interested in working in the community and learning to make change,” she says. “I realized that if I wanted to ever make that change and contribute at a national level, I had to start in my own neighborhood and community first.”

Agnoletti’s commitment to community involvement through DU began before she even started classes.

“She literally walked into our office the summer before her freshman year and said, ‘I want to do public achievement, I want to work with Denver public school students,’” says Frank Coyne, associate director for DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning (CCESL).  “And Charla never looked back.”

Working through CCESL, Agnoletti served as a coach in its Public Achievement program all four years of her college experience. Through the program, DU student coaches work with K-12 students to identify issues they care about within the school and the community. These teams work together for an academic year to conduct community-based research and carry out a service-learning project to address the issue they identified.

During her freshman and sophomore years, she worked with teams at Bryant Webster School. She was instrumental in developing and piloting the Public Achievement program at Manual High School during her junior and senior years.

“Through Public Achievement, I’ve learned that change is a process and it’s not something that an individual can do themselves. You have to build relationships and understand what you want to change before you can do it,” Agnoletti says. “I’ve also learned a lot about the U.S. public education system and the realities facing the students and schools.”

In addition to her Public Achievement work, Agnoletti volunteered with community outreach programs through study-abroad experiences in Bologna, Italy and in Ecuador. She worked with Professor Kate Willink to develop a service-learning course as a CCESL service learning associate. She is a Puksta Scholar — a civic engagement scholarship — and a member of CCESL’s Community Leadership Corps. Agnoletti also helped establish the Engaged Community Initiative at DU, a group of students committed to applying the community organizing model to deal with student issues on campus.

“Charla is the most motivated and energetic student that DU has seen in a very long time, and she will be missed,” says Coyne. “It’s an energy that is contagious, and because of that energy and her dedication, much of what she has started will live on at DU and in the community.”

Agnoletti plans to work in the field of public education reform. She has been accepted into the Teach for America program and will teach language arts for two years at the new Manny Martinez Middle School in Denver.

“I know that if I want to make change in public education system, I have to be a teacher first to really understand what’s going on,” she says. “To make reforms, I have to understand the ins and outs of what it’s like to be in the classroom.”

Agnoletti looks back on her four years at DU with fondness.

“On an academic level and on social level, I’ve grown so much in four years,” she says. “My experiences have definitely prepared me for my future.”

For more information or to watch streaming video of DU’s commencement ceremony, please visit DU’s commencement Web site.

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