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Sandrika Freeman ’20: On an ‘inevitable’ path

Sandrika Freeman

Sandrika Freeman ’20 came to Carolina with the dream of improving public education through policy. That dream is still alive and well, but she knows she’s needed in the classroom first.

Sandrika Freeman ’20 came to Chapel Hill from about as far away as a North Carolinian can.

She hails from Bertie County, situated in the northeastern corner of the state, a low-lying area among slow-moving creeks. Bertie is one of North Carolina’s most rural counties.

With a declining agriculture-based economy, Bertie County is also one of the state’s poorest. Resources for education and for high-quality teachers are few.

Sandrika knows this struggle better than most.

Her mother was a teacher. Her father serves on the school board.

Growing up in a household that values education and with a lifelong love of school, Sandrika admits her path to education feels “inevitable.”

That’s why her career plans include returning to Bertie County and, one day, hopefully serving as its superintendent.

“I can make a difference there,” she said. “I owe it to the students of Bertie County to be that well-prepared educator.”

A roadmap for serving ‘the whole child’

Now, Sandrika is carving out a path at Carolina that will give her the tools and opportunities to help as many North Carolina students as possible, rural ones in particular.

When Sandrika arrived at Carolina in 2017, a first-year seminar titled “Reforming America’s Schools” taught by J.B. Buxton — a lecturer in the Department of Public Policy who has worked in a variety of education policy roles in North Carolina — led her to declare public policy as her major.

She wanted to help overcome persisting challenges in public education, but the broad nature of public policy quickly pulled her away from that focus. So she switched to the School of Education’s Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) major, committed to better understanding education, but was unsure exactly how she could make the macro-level impact she desired.

Sandrika quickly found herself in a program that has exposed her to a wide view of education — one that included child development, educational ethics, research methods and education policy.

“HDFS doesn’t target just future teachers,” she said. “You have so many different courses to help you become a better educator. I’m learning so much about ‘the whole child,’ in addition to learning about how to be a great teacher in my pre-MAT classes.”

The program also provides — and requires — internships that provide students with hands-on experiences in the areas of education that interest them most. Some students pursue “helping professions” internships in health care settings.

Sandrika chose an internship with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Virtual Public School, now known as NC Virtual, seeing up-close how courses were developed and how leaders made decisions for the state’s online learners. In spring 2020, she is interning with Dr. Nakia Hardy, deputy superintendent for academic services at Durham Public Schools.

Collectively, Sandrika’s experiences in the HDFS program have provided the beginnings of a career roadmap.

When Sandrika graduates in May, she will pursue a Master of Arts in Teaching, specializing in special education, and then plans to teach for a few years.

What comes after Sandrika will figure out as she goes along. A Master of School Administration? An Ed.D.? Maybe both. A chance to work and serve at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction? Hopefully. She just knows she wants to best prepare herself as a leader, through education and experience, to create the most impact for as many students as possible.

And when she’s gained that experience, she wants to use it for the benefit of students and educators in the place where it all started for her.

“I would love to be the superintendent in Bertie County. That’s my home, and that’s where I’m needed.”

Sandrika Freeman is a recipient of the Willie Hall Kennedy Scholarship and the Sam and Carole Roebuck Scholarship.

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