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Shelton Alumni News

Forrest Hinton ’07 Tackles Education Reform

As a math education major at NC State, Shelton-Caldwell Scholar Forrest Hinton had a chance to see the educational system through the eyes of both a teach and a student. While doing his student teaching, he was struck by a school system that he says seemed “mechanical and rote” and contrary to the everyday lives that students were leading.

“I saw so many students that needed something that related more to the struggles they were going through. Something that gave them purpose and meaning,” he says. And he wasn’t finding it in an education system that seemed to prize standardized test scores over active, learner-centered activities.

Never too shy to engage in a public policy debate – he served as Student Senate President and as a columnist for the student newspaper at NC State – Forrest left Raleigh and headed to Harvard University after graduation, hoping to explore education policy as a way to bring change to the public schools he encountered.  At Harvard, he met other activists in the field and thinkers on the forefront of the education policy debate. From there, it was no turning back.

“To me, our educational system is too focused on a one-size-fits-all approach to learning,” Forrest says. “It’s always a challenge to balance equity and access with differentiated learning. But there’s some balance we need to find.”

And he hopes to be a central player in that pursuit. After Harvard, he completed a one-year postgraduate fellowship with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Education. Next month, he’ll join a Washington, DC, think tank focused on the education sector to help lobby politicians for changes to K-12 education policy. One day, he hopes to propel his experience in politics into the construction of his own school, one that will flout the one-size-fits all model of education to focus on student engagement and achievement.

“I always felt that I could be a teacher and have an impact on one school and one classroom,” Forrest says. “But getting involved in policy will give me the chance to have an impact on thousands of classrooms and education, in general.”

While at NC State, Forrest had the opportunity to work in a variety of classrooms, from a summer program for disadvantaged students in England to the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. He worked with students who had little money to pay for education to students who grew up with all the advantages of wealth and access. As a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, he also worked in mentoring programs in Wake County Schools.

Those students – the ones he met in summer classrooms and public school classes – helped him see the disparities in the educational system. But the students he met at NC State – particularly his colleagues in the Caldwell and Shelton programs, helped him see his potential to make a difference.

“Probably the biggest influence on my life has been having other people around me who were motivated, who where talented, and who shared this sense of social justice and wanting to improve the world,” Forrest says. “It’s very helpful to have those positive influences around you. Those people who will share their dreams with you, who you can collaborate with.”

With their help, he says, he was able to transition from a “small town” student in Eastern North Carolina to a leader on campus and in his field.

“[Before I came to NC State], I was always intimidated by those profiles I read about students and all they had accomplished. They seemed like demigods,” he said. “I just thought, ‘I could never be this person.’”

With a postgraduate degree under his belt and one foot firmly planted in the path of his public policy goals, he’s still having a hard time imagining that he might just be that person.

“I’m just an Eastern North Carolina boy who had amazing opportunities and the chance to be around people who are there as your inspiration,” he says.

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