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In this special installment of the Equity Advocate, we’ll be featuring some of our long-time partners to celebrate our 5-year anniversary, reflect on the past, and uncover what the future holds for the fight for educational equity in New York. 

Amber Rangel Mooney was very bright in high school — but she was disengaged. As a senior, she wanted to graduate and be independent, so she went directly to work in hospitality.  

The education system did not do well by Amber — it didn’t give her many postsecondary options or ideas other than going to college.   

When she scored 100 on a math Regents, she was told she should be an accountant. That didn’t sound appealing. Just because she was good at math, she thought, accounting didn’t need to be her one-and-only career choice or college major.   

“There’s problem-based learning, applied learning… all these things the education system needs to wake up and realize this is how you connect with students like me,” Amber said. “Getting an education for the sake of education is a luxury, at least it was for me.” 

Amber went on to manage a multimillion-dollar catering company throughout her early 20s, but then had a realization — it was time to see what other kind of work was out there. “As an adult, I realized going to college was going to give me options. But as a high school student, that’s not how college was presented to me,” she said. 

Amber earned her bachelor’s at the age of 30, and is grateful that her job out of college recognized she had a decade of work experience already, which is not always the case for recent graduates. 

Her experiences as a young adult led her to work at The Business Council of New York State as director of workforce development, where she represents the interests of large and small businesses throughout New York State. She feels personally connected to bridging the gap between the business community and the education system.  

“There are so many opportunities and not enough people understand the language of business and the language of education. They’re often saying similar things, with a different language,” she said.  

As a long-time member of the New York Equity Coalition and partner of Ed Trust–NY, Amber and The Business Council add a perspective of workforce development to fighting for equity in education in New York State: How can we ensure that students are graduating prepared for the workforce — or whatever postsecondary path they choose?  

“There needs to be more acknowledgment that schools are preparing students for the real world,” she said. One way schools can do that is by teaching life skills.  

“Can they communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, critically think, and manage conflict?”  Amber elaborated. 

Employers want recent graduates with basic life skills — some on-the-job skills can be learned along the way. Yet some more technical skills — such as science, math, technology, engineering, and more — can be taught in advanced curriculum. But not all students in New York State have equitable access to these important courses.  

According to the New York Equity Coalition, students who are from low-income backgrounds and students who are Latinx, Black, and American Indian were less likely than their non-low-income and white peers to be enrolled in a range of gatekeeper and advanced courses in middle and high school. 

And even when students who are from low-income backgrounds; Latinx, Black, and American Indian students; current and former English Language Learners; students with disabilities; and students in temporary housing demonstrate they are meeting the state’s academic standards by scoring “proficient” or “advanced” on their 7th grade state math assessment, they are less likely than their peers to be given the chance to take advanced math classes in grades 8 and 9. 

Equitable access to gatekeeper and advanced courses can help students prepare for college and careers, Amber said, and New York State can do more as we look ahead. 

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to expand access to these courses and get people in them,” Amber said. “If we want to be serious about college and career readiness, course access is it.”  

Thank you, Amber and The Business Council, for being a strong advocate with Ed Trust–NY for these past five years, as well as adding the essential workforce development perspective to the education equity conversation!