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Chris Korsmo: My Ed Path

Chris Korsmo

When I reflect back on my education, it becomes clear pretty quickly that there was not one big “aha” moment. I didn’t just wake up one morning and was suddenly enlightened about everything on the face of the earth. And we haven’t yet figured out how to download information directly into our brains, like Carrie Anne Moss suddenly learning how to fly that helicopter. Everything I learned built on what I had learned previously. Graduation requirements at my high school were aligned to college-going. While rigorous, those requirements allowed for the arts. Seven years of marching band made me who I am today. All the stories about band camp are true.

This is why our vision at the League of Education Voters is for every student in Washington state to have access to an excellent public education – from early learning through higher education – that provides the opportunity for success. And this is why LEV is a proud member of the Cradle Through College Coalition.

To that end, during the 2017 legislative session, LEV is advocating for:

  • Additional funding for increased access and participation in high-quality early learning programs across the state
  • A system that attracts, retains, and supports qualified and effective educators, which includes teachers, para-educators and principals, while addressing needs for equitable access to quality instruction
  • Programs and funding targeted toward students who need it most, providing both academic and non-academic supports for students to improve outcomes and make progress in closing the opportunity and achievement gaps
  • An accountability system that provides transparency for families on school budgets and student outcomes, measures student and school success meaningfully, and provides effective state- and district-level supports for struggling schools
  • Additional funding to serve all students eligible for the State Need Grant

Here’s what we know about our kids: They all have assets. Every one of them has talent. They are not widgets. They want to know that what they’re learning has meaning. And they want you to know their names. For all the difficulty we ascribe to changing education policy, it’s really pretty simple:

  • Foundational skills that transfer with them to careers
  • Access to information about possible career choices
  • Individualization
  • Applied learning or relevance
  • And adults who care about them

Speaking of caring adults, none of my success would have been possible without great teachers. Research consistently shows that a great teacher has the single biggest impact on whether a student will succeed. I know this from personal experience, and I thought you might appreciate these photos from my education path:

League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo's education path

Spring Day at Beloit College was a huge day of fun. There were no classes, and air band contests were the order of the day. Guess which band we were and who I was? I believe the year was 1983. I’m holding a toilet brush, in case you’re curious. For the record, the brush was brand-new.

I couldn’t have made it to Beloit without support from my favorite teacher, Sue Remley. I had her twice for math in high school and she took me under her wing. I could tell she was paying attention, which is why I did not want to let her down.

Her expectation for me was a motivating factor in applying to and going to college, because she let me know when the SATs and ACTs were. She even asked me who I was sending them to. She had 150 kids a day, in six or seven classes. And she knew everybody. I wasn’t the only person she was talking to. I wasn’t the super special kid. Everybody was super special. And that was cool.

Wouldn’t it be great if every student had a story about a favorite teacher, and every student had access to great teachers from early learning through higher education to help them along their education path? Call your legislators and encourage them to support the full education continuum at 1-800-562-6000. If you need help finding your legislators, just click here.

 

#MyEdPath

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning, Funding, Higher Education, Legislative session, Teacher Prep

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Resources from the 2017 Parent & Community Training

League of Education Voters 2017 Puget Sound Activist TrainingThank you to everyone who attended LEV’s 7th Annual Parent & Community Training!

Here are presentations from the breakout workshops:

Update – School Discipline

Student Weighted Formula

Summer Splash Reading Literacy Program

Tips and Resources for Students with Special Needs

 

Education Advocacy for Black Students - League of Education Voters

From the keynote panel on Education Advocacy for Black Students: “We’ve had the research that tells us how to engage students of color and help them succeed. We just need to put it into practice.”

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism, Closing the Gaps, Events, Funding, Legislative session, School Discipline

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Student Voice: Why Every Student Deserves a Quality Education (Video)

League of Education Voters intern MyKaila Young asks students at the University of Washington to share their education journey, what they learned along the way, and why it is important for every student to receive a quality education.

In McCleary v. State of Washington, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that because the state government is not providing sufficient education funding, it is violating the state’s constitution. Further, the Court found that inadequate funding from the state is leading to inequalities and disparities between wealthy and poor school districts, because some districts are only able to raise a fraction of the money through local levies as other districts, despite having a higher local levy tax rate.

The Court has ordered the state to address this issue by increasing education funding and reducing reliance on local levies to pay for teacher salaries and other basic education essentials. Estimates say that complying with the Court’s decision will require the state to spend an additional 1.5 – 2 billion dollars more per year on public education.

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding, Higher Education

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Making a Splash to Improve Literacy in Kent

By Joyce Yee, LEV Community Organizer

Kent School District Summer Splash - League of Education VotersThe Kent School District’s Summer Splash Reading program is a pilot summer program to help students improve their reading literacy levels and skills, funded by the Race to the Top Initiative. The district is partnering with King County Housing Authority and Kent Youth and Family Services to provide support to families at the Birch Creek housing community.

Summer Splash began in the summer of 2015 and is scheduled to end in summer of 2017. The district provided three teachers to work with students grades Pre-K through 6th, Kent Youth and Family Services provided three classroom assistants, along with three older students who are in high school or alumni of the district, to help out. Students are divided into three classrooms, with 25 students in each.

While their main focus is on kindergarten readiness and improvement in reading literacy, Summer Splash uses a whole child approach. They use the American Reading Company curriculum, and students read factual material on topics such as science. The pre-kindergarten students sit together in a kindergarten academy that helps them with readiness for kindergarten, four hours a day for eight weeks. Older students in grades 1–6 work on improving literacy skills through reading texts and doing research reports, and meet 2 hours a day for 7 weeks.

The student demographic at Birch Creek is mostly Somali, Latino, Iraqi, Russian, Ukrainian, as well as Black/African American. The Kent Youth and Family support staff, and summer school coordinator intentionally recruited students from various ethnic backgrounds by knocking on families’ doors, going to Pine Tree and Millennial Elementary schools to hand out applications, and making phone calls to such families in order to get them to enroll their children in this program. Students in the program have already made measurable gains in reading test scores. Of the 75 students who participated, 66 completed pre and post assessments. All students who participated maintained and improved their grade reading level, average reading growth level was 0.19 years, 4th – 6th grade students had a higher average reading growth level of 0.28 years.

The Kent School District is also working on sustainability of the program after the Race to the Top funding goes away. In the first year, they recruited teachers who weren’t experienced at working with students from diverse demographics. In 2016, they recruited two district teachers from schools with demographics that reflect Birch Creek families, as well as one Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS) teacher. This year, they will recruit only one district teacher, and two KYFS staff teachers. Professional development has been job-embedded for all staff members working with these students so that the program will be more sustainable.

During the year, Summer Splash provides afterschool homework help including reading and math. Older students are recruited to be reading buddies with younger students. This is in response to 2015 data showing that students were still 2–3 years behind grade level, and older students in grades 4 through 6 are embarrassed to ask for help. Older siblings and cousins read to younger kids. This approach helps the older students to avoid being embarrassed to read materials at lower grade levels with younger students and learn at the same time.

Shouldn’t programs like Summer Splash be part of basic education?

#BeyondBasic

 

Read LEV’s blog post on Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps

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Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

By the LEV Policy Team

Student Supports - League of Education VotersPart of defining basic education is determining what each and every student should have access to in their school. Currently, our system does not guarantee access to student supports that are critical to many students’ academic success—including support staff like counselors or nurses, and programming like additional tutoring. There are a number of approaches we can take to making sure that students receive the supports and resources they need.

The Learning Assistance Program

Currently, Washington provides additional supports to students that are struggling academically through the Learning Assistance Program (LAP). Districts receive funding for this program from the state based on their enrollment of low-income students. Districts must spend LAP funds on services from a list of state-approved, evidence-based practices, including one-on-one or group tutoring and extended learning time, as well as limited use of funds for staff professional development and parent engagement. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, districts must prioritize spending on K-4 literacy interventions. This focus on elementary literacy combined with limited LAP funding has resulted in some districts being unable to provide services to students in middle and high school grades.

The current funding formula for LAP does not align additional student supports and actual student need. While funding is provided to districts based on low-income enrollment, services are provided to students based on academic need, as identified by the district, regardless of income. This results in two potential misalignments. First, all academically struggling students may not be funded if there are more students in the district that need support than there are low-income students. Second, the full range of academic and non-academic needs of low-income students may not be met if they are not eligible for LAP services.

The funding formula also takes into consideration the salaries of certificated teachers in the district, even though many program services are provided by paraeducators. This creates inequities between districts because funding is different based on the characteristics of the adults in the district, not the students, even if student need is the same between districts.

LAP can be used as a mechanism to target the McCleary investments towards student supports with some changes to increase effectiveness. These changes may include:

  • Changing the funding formula to be based on student need, not adult characteristics;
  • Changing the formula to align with student eligibility for services;
  • Altering and/or expanding the allowable uses for LAP funds and increasing funding levels to ensure the needs of all eligible students are met; and
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of LAP interventions to ensure the program is improving student outcomes and closing gaps.

While considering changes to LAP, we should also be examining the needs of low-income students that are non-academic and, therefore, not addressed by the Learning Assistance Program.

Access to Support Staff

Washington provides districts with minimal funding within the current funding formula for support staff, such as counselors, social workers, nurses, and family engagement coordinators. Many of the allocations for these positions are fractions of full-time employees, meaning the amount of money districts receive is inadequate to hire these staff for more than a couple of hours a week. Our current funding structure also does not require districts to spend money allocated for specific staff positions to hire those staff. This allows districts flexibility in staffing to meet the needs of their communities, but, particularly in our environment of inadequate funding, also means that students may not have access to these staff because districts are unable or choose not to hire them. Possible ways to ensure that every student has access to the services provided by support staff could include increasing funding for support staff; requiring minimum staffing levels for support staff, potentially triggered by high-need student enrollment levels; and facilitating and encouraging partnerships between community-based service providers and districts and schools.

Special Education and Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program

Washington provides districts with additional funding for students qualifying for special education services and for English Language Learners (ELL). These funds must be spent on qualifying students, however, the funds provided by the state may not be adequate to meet the needs of all students. Particularly with special education students, the state limits the amount of special education funding to 12.7% of district enrollment. As a result, districts with larger special education student populations than the state cap may not receive the necessary funding to serve all of their students.

While special education students and ELLs receive specialized services, they also interact regularly with all school staff. However, often only the specialized staff are trained in best practices for working with these student populations. This means that outside of the specialized programing students receive, they may not be adequately supported in the school setting as a whole. Students receiving special education or English language services also may have non-academic or additional academic needs outside of those programs, and require access to other school support staff and services.

As we explore ways to better support every student in Washington schools, this could include examining the adequacy of funding for special education and the Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program (ELL students), funding professional development for all school staff in working with special education and ELL students, and encouraging schools and districts to integrate the services and supports students need outside of the specialized programming, rather than providing services in a silo.

Integrated Student Supports and Non-Academic Considerations

Students’ academic success is determined by a number of factors, including social emotional skills, physical and mental health, academic self-concept, family situation, and expectations of school staff. It is important that students have access to both the academic and non-academic supports they need in order to be successful. Washington has been taking steps to improve access to non-academic supports in recent years, including the development of social emotional learning (SEL) standards and the passage of HB 1541, which creates the integrated student supports protocol. The Washington Integrated Student Supports Protocol (WISSP) will be a tool districts can use to assess student need, strategically partner with families and community based organizations, and leverage district and community resources. These are important steps in our state’s efforts to address all of the factors that impact student achievement, but more can and should be done as we invest in 2017. This could include funding professional development for school staff in cultural competency, trauma-informed practices, and social emotional learning; funding family engagement coordinators for schools; and investing in continued implementation of the WISSP and SEL benchmarks and standards.

Investing in student supports, both academic and non-academic, and providing student access to services through staff, state investment, and partnerships can ensure that our McCleary investments will improve student outcomes.

#Beyond Basic

 

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding, Legislative session

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LEV Interviews Governor Jay Inslee About His 2017 State Budget

Governor Jay Inslee - League of Education VotersLeague of Education Voters Communications Director Arik Korman sat down with Governor Jay Inslee to discuss his 2017 education priorities, how to build bridges in today’s political climate, and how to close the opportunity and achievement gaps.

 

Listen here:


Listen to Senator Christine Rolfes talk about the Education Funding Task Force

Listen to Rep. Ruth Kagi talk about the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Children and Families

Listen to Washington state Teachers of the Year talk about teaching philosophy, classroom accomplishments and education priorities

Posted in: Career Technical Education, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning, Funding, Higher Education, Legislative session, Podcast, STEM, Teacher Prep

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Student Voice: Just as the First Lady Said, “When They Go Low, We Go High”

By MyKaila Young, LEV Intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters internThere isn’t a law that forbids any one of us from understanding how capable we are or how capable we are allowed to be. A few posts back, I mentioned my friend Deonte Bridges and how he was, in a figurative sense, the “Guru of Virtues.” The other day, he posted something online that I feel we should all understand. He wrote, “The system is run by two things in my opinion: Fear and Dependency. Until you give those up, you will find yourself mentally and physically controlled by things and faces that you have never seen.”

I learned a very long time ago, mainly through my stepdad’s harsh but necessary teachings, that you cannot depend on the system entirely as the sole source for your education, and you should always, if necessary, depend on something that is strong and logical. For me, I depended on actual people who made real changes in this nation through their perspectives and strength to prevail, because I figured that form of education would always be necessary. I happened to be right for once.

I believe if Malcom X or Martin Luther King were still alive, they would want us to remember that we didn’t get to where we are today by waiting for the system to change. We got to where we are today by challenging the system and taking back what was rightfully ours, and we must continue to do the same now. There is so much more power in shared knowledge and perspective than there is with restricted access to basic awareness that the broken system provides. I hope that now, more than ever, students recognize that the power is within them, but it’s up to them to embrace it.

My reaction to the election was that this is yet another time when a nation has been seized. Throughout the election, I wondered and if anyone ever thought to ask, “When was America ever great? And how could he possibly make America great again if it was never really great?” Despite what has shaken a nation over the past several days, and what will be a very different reality moving forward in the next four years, we all have to remember that this country was built on unjust ground due to an unfair system. Certain individuals took it upon themselves to decide who would be privileged and who would be burdened, without any logic or true understanding of what it takes for a person to truly be privileged, and how easy it is for a person to be burdened by intellectual poverty and be completely unaware of it.

What surprised me the most was that now, more than ever, millions of people understand a day in the life of a student who has to go to under-resourced schools, taking on ample amounts of adult challenges and anxieties, and continuously having and deal with systematic bullying and oppression as early as 9 years old due to the education system alone. It was shocking how an entire nation felt these emotions all at once. It’s not just certain people or ethnic groups who have to deal with the burden of being uncertain. Now we all do.

The system may never change, but that’s why it’s more important than ever to consider what your role is within the system, and how you can make a difference. Sure, protesting and uniting in that way does some good, but it’s time to support each other’s progressions and fundraise for our kids who will now probably have fewer resources than before. It’s time to use the unity and bond that has been created over the past several days and progress it. Sure, one person can make you feel as if you have no value or power, but the opportunities surrounding the McCleary education funding debate ask you whether that is something you will continue to believe. Will you settle for believing you are worth less than you are, because someone makes you feel that way? I hope the answer is “No,” because you can’t allow fear to carry you through a lifetime of experiences that have already been deemed to be uncertain.

What is McCleary saying to us now? Well, it’s saying that things are going to be different moving forward, but that the fight for quality, equitable education must always be at the forefront of what we continue to advocate for. Every person, regardless of background, color, age, or sexual orientation, is going to be affected in some way by this election. However, it is up to us to change the perspective for our students and help them to redefine the barriers of privilege and poverty, because nowadays you have to ask yourself, “Is there really a difference now with the current changes in the White House?” Could McCleary be saying that, despite the unfortunate event that has transpired, the one thing we still need to do is come together and figure out a way to engage and inspire our students in a unique way? I think that’s exactly what it is saying.

George Eliot once wrote, “There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and have recovered hope.” Regardless of the outcome, the presence of McCleary will always serve as a reminder for every student, now more than ever, to believe the power that they hold is unique to them.

McCleary is trying to get people to realize that, although the American Dream is just an illusion, it doesn’t mean you stop dreaming and give up. Instead, change the perspective of your life and live as best as you can. Remember how this nation was built, and how hard individuals have had to fight for change and equal opportunity in all areas of life in America. Education is the foundation for all great things and, sadly, many people in power understand that. What must we do moving forward? Be optimistic. Encourage our students to believe in something greater than themselves.

There is always going to be someone or something that is going to tell you that you cannot do something or be something. But as Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bike. The key is to keep moving forward.” I lived my life in fear for quite some time, not knowing whether I was going to need another unexpected surgery that I couldn’t afford, or whether I was ever going to be able to become a great writer. Now that I am a few years older, I have learned that often we don’t fear things because we are afraid; we fear things because of their presence.

No one knows what the future holds, and it’s a scary reality. I’m sure we all dream of an equitable and prosperous educational system that empowers every student but, truth be told, why are we depending on a broken system to empower the fresh and priceless minds of our kids that is supported by a divided nation? How can we as advocates, parents, and teachers help our kids perfect and realize their power and skills?  I have an idea, but it’s going to require some time, patience and, most importantly, hope in not the system but in each other.

Education is the art of learning and creating perspective. No one can ever take away your ability to learn, as long as you agree to never stop thinking, reading, and questioning everything. That’s how I found my way to journalism.

 

Read MyKaila’s fourth post, Is McCleary Paving the Way to a New American Dream?

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding

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Student Voice: Is McCleary Paving the Way to a New American Dream?

By MyKaila Young, LEV Intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters internDuring my sophomore year through the helpful guidance of a great mentor of mine, I was admitted into the Masters in Education Policy class at the University of Washington. It sounds really impressive but, truth be told, I was terrified. I was in a class with current teachers, Masters candidates, and students in the processes of pursuing a doctoral degree. I was just a sophomore who wanted to be part of revamping the current education system. I had no knowledge of how advocating for policy changes worked. I didn’t know if I would ever have the confidence to challenge the very people who had so much power over my K-12 schooling. All I really had was my experiences and memory of the great fight that I put up to make it through the system by any means necessary.

The first day of my graduate class was actually the first day of my bio anthropology class. Evolution never really intrigued me until I changed the perspective. The first chapter and lecture was on the evolution of birds. It’s not a super exciting topic but I worked with it. The book gave a very bland example of birds in the Galapagos Islands and how they changed or “evolved” over time. It was tragic (not really) in the sense of birds evolving over time and eventually dying off. There were birds with small beaks and birds with larger beaks. In hindsight, there was a variety of birds that carried their own unique traits, some that carried advantages within their own birthright, and some that did not have any advantages at all. A drought happened, which caused the seeds – the main food supply on the small island – to become enlarged. The disadvantaged birds were the ones that had smaller beaks. They couldn’t eat the larger seeds once they became enlarged due to the drought. They were disadvantaged because they were not physically equipped to break down or swallow the enlarged seeds that were produced by the environment. I remember thinking, “Well that sucks – how unfair.” The birds with the larger beaks were seen as the ones with the greatest advantage because they could in fact digest and eat the seeds, and take away the food supply from the disadvantaged. The only reason the larger-beaked birds survived over the smaller-beaked birds was because of their given or inherited advantages. The short-beaked birds died off because they found it impossible to survive without the proper resources. My professor mentioned that he believed that they tried to survive, but were unable because their disadvantages were just too great. That really intrigued me.

I remember not paying attention really until he started going in-depth about how there was always a “struggle for existence.” Learning how organisms have evolved and survived over time was fascinating in the sense that animals are not the only organisms that compete to survive in unruly or extremely disadvantaged environments.

One thing that I was reminded of this past week when I attended the Washington Student Achievement Council’s Pave the Way Conference in Tacoma was that, when it comes to education and the reality of the current system, receiving a quality and equitable education should no longer be a means of survival.

In society, an individual’s socioeconomic status (SES) is seen as a determinant in how a person is able to maintain, sustain and progress in life. Whether it be going to college or finding a career, SES in a sense allows you to see your advantages and disadvantages within the scope of your environment. The disadvantages within the environment are circumstances that can include addiction, poverty, abuse, neglect, and a wide range of other issues on top of a failing education system that a student is required to participate in.

The problem I see, as well as many advocates, is that the current system is not designed to support the advancement of every child. Instead, it’s tailored more to generalized outcomes than actual investments in advancements.

At some point in time, those who come from a particular SES – whether it be high, middle or low – that individual has to live in the “reality” of that status for some time. That’s a tough reality that we all have to face. We are given our disadvantages and advantages based on a status that is imposed on us at birth. I am sure there are many people much like myself who have looked at their surroundings while growing up and have said, “I didn’t ask for my life or parents to be this way,” or “I didn’t ask for all these problems.” Our survival abilities as humans come from how we deal with our unruly environments and imposed status and realities, but for most kids who are counting on the education system to help them to make it out and have a better chance at life, that’s failing them as well.

We need to stop expecting children to have the answers to overcoming poverty because there isn’t a special algorithm, especially when a quality education isn’t yet an option for everyone who wants one.

I haven’t heard of a school system that has properly equipped, fully funded without question, and strategically and morally invested in giving every child the proper resources to achieve. Instead, I continue to see a child’s background and SES being used as a shield or a reason to not fully invest, because they are seen as not as having as much potential as students who come from moderately stable (if not extremely stable) environments. It is not up to the system to decide who has the most potential and who is worth investing in, and who is not. That decision should be left up to the child.

Just as those short-beaked birds didn’t choose to be born in what would later on be considered as a “disadvantage,” they had no choice but to figure out a way to survive within their environment and to make that disadvantage work, or literally die trying. People do not choose to be born into harsh situations and environments. I can’t imagine someone waking up and saying to themselves, “Today seems like a great day to be burdened with hunger or extreme poverty.” I couldn’t imagine a child choosing to be in that position or in disadvantaged environment as a direct result of their family’s socioeconomic status. I strongly believe that McCleary is trying to get the very people who have the power to change the life experience of every child through a quality, immersive, and fully funded education.

We see in today’s society the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and those in-between making it, but barely making it. Even within school districts, we see certain schools that have more access to resources because they are performing at higher levels than the schools who do not, which is only a direct result of not having a multitude of resources on top of the imposed realities that their education conveys to them. That was one of the strongest points that I heard at the Pave the Way Conference.

McCleary is helping to ensure that the decision is left up to the child and not the system. It only makes sense to invest in all students equally because if not, that sounds illegal.

At the Pave the Way Conference, I remember checking the agenda of breakouts after the morning speaker, Gary Orfield, finished his powerful address. He focused on the impact of policy and equal opportunity for success in American society. I checked my agenda and took notice that one of the sessions was about the “Realities of Poverty.”

One of the main goals of the session was to educate individuals on how poverty affects the development of an individual’s self-concept and influences a person’s values and beliefs. One thing that really resonated with me was that, when it comes to creating policies and truly advocating for kids from various backgrounds who may be experiencing various levels of poverty, there must a deeper understanding of how barriers are built within children that burden them every morning they walk through the doors of their respected schools. We have to see how poverty becomes a frequent reality for tomorrow’s adults, which is primarily due to a social system that does not provide pathways out of poverty that are realistic and long term, but instead generalized investments for expected outcomes.

I think McCleary is challenging the very people who have the power to create change within the current education system in the state of Washington. I believe that McCleary is asking what they are really afraid of.

The Pave the Way “Realities of Poverty” session went into great detail about how, in today’s society, we are socialized to judge and to not fully be aware, which causes us to miss out on the understanding piece. The facilitator gave a powerful example of how she once saw a man with rotten teeth and her first thought was, “He must be on drugs,” instead of taking a step back and thinking about our American society where over 40% of underserved communities do not have access to quality, affordable healthcare. Maybe his teeth were rotten because he does not have the means to see a dentist. She then went on to speak about how children see themselves through what is given/expected of them. McCleary could allow every student in the state of Washington to know that they will survive and access the American dream. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s adults.

 

Read MyKaila’s third post, Could McCleary be Asking for More Inspiration?

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding, Higher Education

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Student Voice: Could McCleary be Asking for More Inspiration?

By MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters internWith the proposal of a new and improved system that will help to ensure that all students feel confident and equipped, one thing I, as well many educators, policymakers and parents may be wondering is: how can the new system set in place with McCleary be used to inspire students moving forward? In addition to teaching kids the fundamentals of learning, how can we teach them the fundamentals of a living an enriched and motivated life in a way that’s engaging for every student – those who have a strong network of support at home and those who do not?

To begin this week of following McCleary, resilience is best defined as the ability to work with challenges in a way that teaches and enriches, and in turn allows an individual to thrive. It’s what many might consider to be one the great and rare virtues in life. I mean rare in the sense that not all students understand how to obtain it, where it comes from, etc. The task is figuring out how all students can understand it and, in turn, embrace it in a way that it is maintained to college and beyond. How do you get students to become resilient?

It’s not very often when I’m at a loss for words. In fact, I can count on my hand the number of times that I’ve been so inspired or surprised to the point I could barely write or think. All I wanted to do was just hold on to that moment. This has only happened a few times. The first was when I read Life Without Principle for the first time. The second was when I received the Gates Millennium Scholarship. The third was when I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower last year on Thanksgiving. The fourth was when former Congressman John Lewis acknowledged my presence, and the very last experience was a bit peculiar because it consisted of crossing paths with a complete stranger and receiving a card.

A business card is a business card, but he didn’t have just an ordinary business card. He had an answer to exactly what the K-12 system is missing. Part of what McCleary understands and recognizes is based on the statistics and feedback of the current system, but this stranger who handed me his card really understood, and built an entire organization around it.

In hindsight, his organization propels the missing fragment in the K-12 system that some students find, while others, unfortunately, do not. His story was printed on the back of his card, and my entire life was completely changed. I was overtaken with inspiration, and once again unaware of what to do with myself for the fifth time in my life.

I’ve met a lot of remarkable and inspiring people over the years, but this encounter was a bit different. His story filled my heart with so much hope and possibility for the future that it inspired me to the point of silence. He is also a Gates Millennium Scholar, CEO of From Hardships to Scholarships, and goes by the name Deonte Bridges. He is someone who I’ve added to my list of Great Inspirations.

Deonte is originally from Atlanta, and he introduced me to the impact that this virtue of resiliency can have when it comes to education.

I attended the Annual Library Association Conference in Orlando, and former Congressman John Lewis was one of the keynote speakers. I was staying at the Hyatt Regency and near the reception desk when he walked by with a few of his colleagues. I waved at him and he waved back at me. As if life wasn’t great enough after that moment, I was able to casually network with my fellow GMS Scholars over the next five days. It was in that same lobby that I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to meet Deonte Bridges.

We were standing by the second elevator towers in the Hyatt and he was casually dressed in a white shirt. At the time, I didn’t know how powerful he was, or who he was for that matter, because I’m a little behind in ALL social media movements. That’s one thing I promised myself at the beginning of next year I would work on – using my social media accounts more, instead of writing in my journals all the time. I didn’t know that he took the Internet by storm when he graduated his senior year, around the same time he was welcomed into the GMS family.

Deonte was first male valedictorian of his high school in more than a decade and earned over $1,000,000 in scholarships – all while overcoming hardships such as the untimely death of his brother, his mother’s diagnosis with cancer, and being robbed at gunpoint. In a live interview he invited me to watch, he said he remembers a time during his freshman year of high school when he told everyone that he was going to get a million dollars in scholarships. Everyone thought he was crazy and didn’t believe him or in his ability to make something like that happen as an inner city youth. When he did it, despite everything else that was going on in his life, it took the world by storm. He had that same Alice in Wonderland Confidence I spoke about in my previous blog.

With over 1 million YouTube views of his powerful speech about overcoming the odds, people in Europe, Africa, and throughout the U.S were taken away by the beautiful virtue he carried throughout the K-12 educational system and Morehouse College. From there, he was featured on CNN Live, in Essence Magazine, and on a wide range of talk shows.

Deonte currently speaks to educators and students on topics such as education, character development, resilience, and values, to name a few. His full motivational series answers that burning question we all have: how we can instill this rare but vital virtue into the hearts and minds of every student in the K-12 system.

I guess you can say he’s like the Guru of Virtues when it comes to empowering young students to understand and acknowledge how much potential they have, and how they can unleash it no matter which obstacles or unexpected visits from adversity they may have.

As a young girl, when I would read literature, it was solely because I recognized that I had the potential to be great at something. I had a small hint when I was 9 that it would be writing. I just needed to figure out what I could do with it, or if I was even capable of doing anything with it. In Henry Thoreau’s Life Without Principles, I learned that although society may try to limit what I believe I can do, or make me feel that I didn’t have any potential, ultimately the decision was up to me. I related to his thoughts, words and perspectives in a way that helped me protect my potential at any costs, and in turn become resilient.

Although, Aristotle, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the great Henry Thoreau have all left behind their legacies, I will never forget the experience of finding someone to relate to. But every student is different. We can’t expect every student to pick up a copy of the books I read and expect them to become resilient, or we can’t expect every student to do what Deonte did to become resilient, because we all find resiliency in different ways. However, what we can do is give every student access to different programs and resources that will help them ultimately decide how they can become resilient in a way that is unique to them. That’s what From Hardships to Scholarships offers, and more.

When I read his card, he reminded me of the same exact hope that I carried with me over the years when I made the choice to always see the value and potential in my life, even if I was part of a system that made me feel like I did not matter. The only difference between my earlier inspiration and how it’s maintained today is that I found someone who is still living I can relate to – but my resiliency is different it is from how he found his. I share mine through writing, and he is actively working and sharing his in a way that’s helping all students and faculty think about what they want their legacies to be, and how much potential they have.

It made me wonder if McCleary is really asking whether there is enough funding geared towards programs to help kids who may not have the best sources of inspiration. Would they benefit from leadership programs offered in a more engaging way?

Is there enough money and time being invested in helping kids personally develop their passions and sense of self, in addition to learning the fundamentals? Where can we start when considering how to recruit more faculty that can relate to students and what they experience once the schools doors close? From Hardships to Scholarships answered all my burning questions after getting to know the founder himself through his organization and motivational series.

I often wonder how we can expect a child to go on to do great work and fully utilize their Education Passports beyond high school if their inspiration, sense of self, and drive isn’t fully developed. Education is something that is lifelong. It’s not just about algorithms, equations, or how Christopher Columbus had it all wrong. It’s about growing into your potential and then, in turn, sharing it with people around you in such a way that contributes to making the world a better place. It’s about preparing students for the next phase of life. And although that’s an algorithm within itself, it’s something that Pi squared can’t always solve.

McCleary and redefining what basic education means is a start to helping students figure out how to solve the more complex algorithms when the school doors close. Life is hard for us all at certain points. We should encourage all students to wear their potential as armor and allow their passion and knowledge to carry them to the success that every person, whether student or educator, desires.

 

Read MyKaila’s second post, Alice in Wonderland, Imagining McCleary

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Student Voice: Alice in Wonderland, Imagining McCleary

By MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters internNelson Mandela once said, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, and the child of farm workers can become the president of a nation.”

As promised, over the next few months I’ll be following the McCleary ruling and breaking down its significance and which benefits it will bring to the current K-12 education system for students, from my perspective.

What is McCleary? It’s what Malcolm X would call the New Passport or what Nelson Mandela might call the Great Engine of Personal Development. If we look at the K-12 system as the Leadership Academy that helps cultivate and guide students in the right direction in pursuit of becoming the next generation of leaders, it may be a little easier to understand.

Our Declaration of Independence says that every person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence is the great equalizer and, in this scenario, will act as the “The Boss.” So, The Boss says that every person who enters into this Leadership Academy will leave prepared, satisfied, confident, equipped, and ready to take on the challenge of becoming part of the next generation of leaders.

In fact, The Boss says it’s illegal to not fully invest in the Leadership Academy and prosperity of every student. In hindsight, students are not allowed to be robbed of a quality and enriching education. That’s both beautiful and cause of one of the biggest debates throughout the country. Are students really receiving the resources and guidance they need to prosper? In other words, are we teaching kids to drive but when it comes time for them to get behind the wheel, did we only really give them 2 ½ tires?

Unfortunately, not all students are leaving the Academy ready for the world and feeling confident to be great leaders, which makes The Boss sad. The appointees who have been entrusted with the funds to create and support the programs that help cultivate the leaders through the Academy, or making sure all kids leave the Academy with four tires and not 2 ½,  now have to go back to the drawing board.

Here at the League of Education Voters, we are advocating for a stronger Leadership Academy, or K-12 system for students. Under McCleary, we would like to redefine what basic education is, and which resources are really needed for student success to cultivate the strongest, confident and most prosperous leadership for every student, regardless of his or her background.

It should no longer be about who has the greater means; it should be about having an equal playing field in pursuit of helping every student make the economy and the world a better place. McCleary can give every student their own individual and valid Education Passport – one that won’t just get them through high school, but to college and beyond. One that will take them to unimaginable and prosperous places.

When I applied for the Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS) back in 2013, it was nine essays, no word limit, full creative control to answer all questions – a little gift I felt was just for me to be able to showcase my skill and love for writing. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave me my passport to prosperity and unimaginable places, college being the first stop and then the opportunity to study in Spain, Paris, Ireland, and next to Poland in just a few months.

Currently, it is required that all students receive 1,000 hours of instruction annually. How these hours are split up throughout the years to create the greatest leaders is dependent upon well, what the teacher can do with the resources the appointees give. I found through my own personal experience that my teachers needed more support with what they wanted to do to help my classmates and I learn as much as possible in a way that works for us. Look at it like this, if students create the best art by using color instead of lead pencils, but with 21 students in a class and only enough money to buy colored pencils and paint for 15, do you see how that could be problematic and could potentially make The Boss unhappy? If a teacher has 21 students and needs 21 sets of paintbrushes and colored pencils because it is a pathway to help students understand the material to get them to the next stage of the leadership academy successfully, then that should not be up for debate.

I was a reluctant case. I was passing by through the K-12 system because I had to deal with what I was given. In hindsight, I had a few experiences being the student that “couldn’t paint” because there weren’t enough resources. However, I had a lot of outside practice thanks to my dad making my sisters and me the Jackson 5 of Education growing up. He made us work on our skills and passions for what felt like an additional 1,000 hours throughout the school year. I’m sure as a parent, he understood that there were many cracks in the K-12 system, but probably felt that there was no sense in fighting a system that was broken and probably wasn’t going to be repaired anytime soon.

Our summers were not typical summers. It was the Jackson 5 Academy of Learning, which I appreciate now but hated back then. This is why McCleary is such a big deal. It could be the start to fixing the system. I was constantly writing, reading, and writing some more to the point where I was confident enough to give birth to a dream and pursue it, because I had the perspective and knowledge that I could succeed. In fact, it became quite ridiculous how much I started writing over the years. In college, the only kind of partying I really did was in the UW’s Suzzallo Library with the Dewey Decimal System or in my Ballard studio with my laptop and Google docs.

When it came to applying to one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships in the country (Gates Millennium), I didn’t consider the odds that were against me. Instead, I felt confident enough in my ability to write because that’s all they were asking me and every other student in the country to do, just write. So I went to town because at this point, it wasn’t about any challenge or obstacle in front of me, but it came down to skill, experience and ability. I also knew my rights that Thomas Jefferson outlined for all individuals in the Declaration of Independence. So for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I applied to that scholarship.

I’ve always believed that someday I could be a great writer and reporter. If I wanted to be on the New York Times Best Seller list or even be skilled enough to work at CNN, it had to start with a confident and disciplined belief. That’s what my dad, Michael, taught me. As I grew older, I recognized that I couldn’t dream and hold on to doubt at the same time. One was a heavy load and the other always made me feel like Alice in Wonderland.

McCleary questions whether students have the confidence to pursue their wildest dreams. Do they feel capable? If not, how can that change? I see my mentors and colleagues at LEV really trying to figure that out.

When I received the Welcome to the GMS Family packet, I felt as if I could take on the world and nothing was out of my reach. Not only did it guarantee me a free undergraduate education but a free education through earning my doctorate. One of my best friends from Colorado is also a Gates scholar with a compelling story and an astounding amount of what I like to call Alice in Wonderland Confidence, as well. Her name is Michael and when I met her, I didn’t feel crazy that my dreams seemed to go far beyond the stars or like I was stuck in some kind of Wonderland.

On the phone one day, I asked her what she wanted to do as a career and what her dreams were. She told me that she wanted to work for NASA. I will never forget that moment. I was looking for the Caesar croutons in aisle 4 at QFC and I remember stopping in my tracks, unsure if I heard her correctly because it was such a confident response. Her dream job was to be an astronaut. This is a true story. People would always tell her that she had a better chance of becoming president of the U.S than becoming an astronaut for NASA. Nelson Mandela had a great point –education is the fuel that drives a student to believe in the possibility of the things they may see as impossible.

Does the current K-12 system allow students to believe in the possibility of a great future?  I imagine McCleary as the hope and challenge to the impossible that students may feel. I imagine it giving students the same Alice in Wonderland confidence that Michael and I had in order to go after our dreams and challenge the status quo of our backgrounds. I imagine McCleary being the engine that fuels the confidence for many other students to dream of being great writers, reporters, and astronauts.

I believe that McCleary could give birth to a new system of belief for every student. When considering McCleary, I think a lot of people involved in the issue are asking, do we need more arts and leadership programs? Better use of testing and more conversations? I’ll be reaching out and sharing their perspective and experiences, as well. The debate over how the 1,000 hours of instruction in all grade levels will be supported and spent is heating up, so stay tuned – it’s interesting business that you won’t want to miss.

 

Read MyKaila’s first post, Following McCleary

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