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Hill Climbers: Aide Brings a Focus on Education

When it comes to the Hill, Gideon Bragin found that good things come to those who wait, but the best things come to those who least expect it.

[IMGCAP(1)]”I wasn’t even looking for a new job when one of my colleagues said, ‘Hey, check this out. It’s like they wrote a job description for what you do!'” said Bragin, who started as a legislative assistant for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) this June. “I ended up being one of those people who applied to an online listing and actually got it.”

Bragin, 31, focuses on education issues for his new job, which is fitting for the former Teach for America educator who earned his master’s degree in public policy from Johns Hopkins University.

Hailing from Brooklyn, Bragin has a history of family activism, dating back to his grandfather’s role as special deputy controller of New York in the 1970s. His mother was a union organizer and clinical social worker. Bragin said these factors “gave him the bug,” which led him to TFA after his graduation from Hampshire College.

“I remember my first day in the classroom being so freaked out. When the kids said, ‘Mr. Bragin,’ I looked over my shoulder thinking my dad was there,” he said, laughing. “The truth is, you can have all the training in the world, but when you step into that classroom, it’s all yours.”

Bragin, who majored in special education, taught children with mild to moderate learning disabilities in an East Oakland, Calif., special day class. He was assigned to work from 2004 to 2006, but he stayed for an extra year. Although he had an amazing experience with TFA, Bragin remains humble about teaching.

“The thing that blew me away was that you work so hard at something all day long, and yet you’re so bad at it,” Bragin said. “I worked my ass off and still felt like I was bombing everyday!”

[IMGCAP(2)]In October 2009, Bragin made a jump into public policy when he began working as a fellow for the House Democratic Caucus. He started his fellowship by producing videos for the Caucus, one of which appeared before a health care speech by President Barack Obama.

The 90-second video, titled “Health Care Reform Now,” featured still shots of the Capitol and historical sites with sound bites of past presidents giving speeches on health care. Bragin’s video was such a hit that some Members of Congress put the video on their Facebook pages, which led his boss, Catherine Tran, to expand his role at the Caucus. He began working on his first policy portfolio shortly after.

“I think it’s pretty serendipitous that the skills I learned in undergrad composing music on a computer were the skills that allowed me to distinguish myself enough in the Caucus to get a legislative portfolio,” Bragin said.

Although he had never envisioned himself working on the Hill, Bragin jumped at the opportunity to continue his legislative work. He was particularly attracted to Honda’s office because of the shifting focus from health care to education issues. Bragin had briefly spoken with the Congressman during his time at the Caucus, discussing everything from music to fishing, and the interview process turned out to be “just as fun” when they sat down to talk education policy.

“I called someone after the interview and they said, ‘Do you think you got the job?'” Bragin said. “And I responded, ‘You know, I wasn’t really thinking about that, but I know I had a good time talking to him.'” But he did secure the job with Honda. Bragin, who loves politics and CNN, couldn’t picture a better home for himself: “Capitol Hill is like the NFL for nerds.”

In his new job, Bragin will be pushing for education legislation, working with the Department of Education on founding the National Commission on Education and Equity, and staffing the Congressman on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Bragin attributes his success to his colleagues at the Caucus, and especially his experience with Teach for America.

“The theory behind TFA is that if a critical mass of people get sensitized to education issues, then that group of people will go out, lead and effect change,” Bragin said. “And it’s hard for me to argue against that; look where I am now.”

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