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Archive for January, 2009

Why I love education advocacy work

I’m still very new to posting to a blog.  I’m going to start with why I think I do this work, why I love education advocacy work.

I grew up poor; my mom was a single mom of 4 kids who worked for the telephone company.  She valued education and encouraged us to succeed. In spite of this, I lost a brother to drugs and another brother for 20 years to alcohol (sober 15 years now).

We lived in a working class neighborhood where most people worked at the Armour meat packing plant.  I went to high school knowing I would go to college.  I took college prep classes and I had pretty good grades, good enough to get into a state college.

I vividly remember talking to my school counselor about going to college.  I remember she was cute, blond, perky and that I only met with her once in the course of four years.  The reason I remember her is because she discouraged me from going to a four year college.  I never understood why.  I can only guess it was because I was poor and my mom was a single parent, and my brothers were in trouble a lot.  She wouldn’t help me get the applications for college; she wouldn’t help me figure out how to apply to college.  I had no clue.  No-one, literally no-one I knew had gone to college.  Through sheer will I figured out how to get an application and I got in, went to college, worked at Microsoft, had children and became an advocate for education.

I do this work because it shouldn’t be so difficult for children, who want to learn, to get a good education.  I want higher graduation requirements because I know most students need the guidance and the push to get what they really need.    If we don’t have the structure, too many children are discouraged, like me, from trying.  And, if they didn’t have the parental support, or didn’t have the intense drive, they would just stop trying and never get the education they deserve.

On Wednesday, I saw parents from all across the state come to Olympia to say “our kids need more.” They need a six hour class day in order to just keep pace with 21st century demands, they need quality teachers to make sure that they learn a years worth of material in every year, and they need higher graduation requirements to prepare our kids for a 21st century life.  HB 1410 and SB 5444 resonate with parents and the community.  The world has changed.  Our children need more time in the classroom and more higher level classes, and they need quality teachers to deliver them.

These bills deliver a 21st century education our communities want and our children need.

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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My trip to History (better late than never)

I’ve never been part of history before. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen cool things and bad things, but saying I’ve witnessed History (capital H) would be a stretch.  As I prepared for my trip I imagined what it would be like and, I have to say, I was wrong. My idea of History didn’t compare with what I experienced.

Last week I took a very short trip to a very large event, the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I left on the red eye last Sunday and arrived in Baltimore on Monday morning at 9 am. I made my way to to the south end of the Capitol Building where so many of us would be fixated the following morning. As I turned the corner, it became closer to real. The barricades, porta potty lined walkways, and people everywhere – I mean everywhere. I stood in front of the Capitol. It was dressed up with American flags – flags that I have never been so proud to see. The choir was practicing – children were everywhere, their parents lift them up pointing and explaining what was about to happen to their world.

My trip built upon that moment. Every minute added another layer of power and depth. I spent the day walking the National Mall. Occasionally, I’d stop and talk to people, and they’d talk back. “Aren’t you excited?” “It’s really happening!” “This is my country.” Everyone was smiling. Everyone was helping one another whether by offering to snap a photo (I traveled alone), a piece of gum, a snack… anything. I slept only a few hours to board the metro just before 6 am and experience the start of a new day. The metro was PACKED, but no one pushed or argued or sniped. Instead people cheered, God Bless America broke out along with a short Happy Birthday to one girl who turned 21 (pictured at left).

It took me an hour  to find the end of my long line and I stood there for hours. I got to know the people I was standing by.  Black, white, young, old, rich, poor – none of that mattered on this special day. After I got through security, I literally sprinted to the Capitol and stood directly behind the reflecting pond. It was an incredible sight. The electricity and positive energy is something that I’ll never ever forget. It was a spiritual reminder that humans are all so similar, we want to be the best, we want to help, we want to understand each other. As I stood and listened to President Obama speak, I took a moment to turn around and take it in.  He was saying these words:

“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.”

It hit me. It was not Barack Obama who blew me away that day. It was us. All of us. We had come together and already accomplished something truly historical. Yes we did! But this accomplishment seemed almost minor compared to the energy, hope, and team work it took to accomplish it. Hope won – and here I was standing next to three African American women my age crying, hugging, and cheering together.inaug

I spent the rest of the day dancing on the iced-over reflecting pond, calling all of my family and friends, and having a long lunch with four people who I had never met before from all different walks of life. It was one of the best lunches I’ve had – mixed with elation and deep discussion on ‘what now?’.

On my flight home I struggled to answer this question – almost to the point of frustration. What more can I do? How can I create real change? I need to do more.  Yesterday I finally got a chance to read President Obama’s letter to his daughters. The most poignant line to me reads, ‘it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.’ It was a great reminder to me that I’m doing some very cool work here at LEV helping ensure that all children are ready for life. Sometimes changing the world feels difficult (okay really difficult), but  last week reminded me that it is possible. That’s enough to keep me going. It takes team work and diligently chipping away at a common goal. More than that, it is what needs to be done.

I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential—schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college—even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.  – Barack Obama, ‘What I Want for You – and Every Child in America.’

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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