Teach for America Twin Cities has launched its first fellowship aimed at teaching members about state education policy, advocacy and organizing, with the goal of empowering them to shape the systems that trickle down to their classrooms.

The policy fellowship is one of the several initiatives Teach for America is launching to drive toward its 10-year target: By 2030, the organization aims to double the number of students reaching key educational milestones. The fellowship kicked off in October with 10 participants, including teachers and nonprofit leaders. Eight fellows are Teach for America alumni.

"As a former public school teacher, I know what it feels like to be excluded from having a voice and choice in decisions that impact you, your students and your school," said Krista Kaput, a lead facilitator of the fellowship and research director at EdAllies, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for equity in education.

Kaput's own work in state education policy proved that the process of making change can be "confusing, opaque and hard to navigate," she said. Her goal for the fellowship is to "lift the curtain" to help educators learn how to get involved in policymaking and share that knowledge with others.

Mikisha Nation, executive director of Teach For America Twin Cities, said the policy fellowship could foster ideas for how to address persistent racial and economic disparities in local schools.

"Minnesota is often highlighted as a state with one of the highest qualities of life, yet education outcomes for our low-income students and students of color are among the worst in the nation," she said in a statement. "This Policy Fellowship is one way to explore content and context around current issues in our state, major changes over the last 10 years and critical actions needed to foster a greater and more inclusive education experience for all students."

Liz Williams, a program officer at Greater Twin Cities United Way, is a member of the inaugural group of fellows. She has a master's degree in education policy, but said the fellowship is offering a deeper understanding of local policy than she got in her graduate program.

"It's been a privilege to be involved," Williams said. "I'm impressed by the caliber of the group. … I'm learning just as much from them as from the curriculum."

The curriculum has so far included simulations about making local policy decisions, which Williams said has been "empowering."

"These spaces are so important to carve out time for a group of people to think and learn and grapple with the big issues together," she said.

Fellow Nadia Nibbs, a manager at the New Teacher Project nonprofit, said the program has given her a better understanding of the language used in policy, which can often be full of jargon.

"It always felt elusive and exclusive," she said. "People want to know how to pursue educational outcomes, but they don't know how. I want to help democratize that."