I meant to publish this in August, but didn’t get to it, and I had one for September also, which has turned into two for October and quite possibly even three or four for October. I’ll catch up!
From Facebook: Thank you to Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith of OH BATs for this Badass speech at a Cleveland Mayoral Forum: https://www.facebook.com/meryl.johnson.3/videos/10207704256283174/?fref=gc&hc_location=ufi
The words: Thank you to all of you for taking the time to be here today and for listening to our questions and concerns, and thank you to Kathy and the other organizers for planning and preparing for the event today.
My name is Melissa Marini Švigelj-Smith. I just began my 20th year of teaching in Cleveland Public High Schools, and my fourth year of teaching young men at our county’s juvenile detention center. Like most folks in this room, I stand here today as an activist; fighting for the education equity all our children deserve.
There are so many issues surrounding education in our city, state and country that it is difficult to narrow the scope of the topic. For our purposes this evening, I have narrowed it down to three issues.
The first issue is poverty in our city. Over half of our city’s children are living in poverty. In February I published a blog titled “My Students Pay Every Day for Their Free Lunch.” In it, I shared the effects of poverty on students according to the American Psychological Association. I listed things like inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, lack of access to health care, being at greater risk for poor academic achievement, dropping out of school, behavioral and socio-emotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays. Additionally, chronic stress associated with living in poverty has been shown to adversely affect children’s concentration and memory which may impact their ability to learn. Poverty also perpetrates a violence upon our young people that leaves educators like me spending weekends or breaks visiting students in state prisons and attending wakes. This pattern of violence should not be replicated in our schools with zero tolerance policies and the policing of our children, excessive testing, a dulling down of the curriculum, and the elimination of classes and activities that make schools a place kids want to be.
Furthermore, our schools should not be blamed for the poverty that our society allows to continue to exist, nor should they be expected to treat society’s ills without the necessary resources and services needed.
The second issue is charter schools, whether they’re labeled “for profit” or “nonprofit.” The unregulated charter industry in this state is costing our most impoverished districts the most financially and academically. I deal with charter schools across our county as I search for student records and piece together student transcripts. As the charter schools siphon millions of dollars from taxpayers throughout the state, the great majority of the time they are NOT outperforming our public schools. In fact, they offer less academically, place profit over what is best for children, and are chronically negligent, unreliable and inconsistent with regard to my record requests. During our first week of school, Invictus School sent me a transcript for a bright and curious student who has been enrolled with them for over a year. He has only earned half a high school credit. This is just one example of the educational malfeasance that I document every week. Children deserve equity in education, not the illusion of choice.
Finally, I question takeovers and mayoral control of schools in largely urban and economically disadvantaged areas where there are concentrated areas of people of color. When democracy is stripped away from any citizen, all of us are more susceptible to tyranny and despotism. Soliciting citizens to vote for tax levies to support the schools they aren’t able to democratically participate in governing is just a supplementary insult.
With this information in mind, I humbly submit the following questions for your pondering and response:
- How can we use our funds and resources to protect and nurture the most vulnerable children and families in our city just as well as we protect and provide for visitors to our downtown? Or our sports teams?
- How can we protect our tax dollars and citizens from predatory charter schools and vulture education profiteers?
- How can we halt corporate control that deletes democracy and treats our kids like products and numbers instead of the resilient and brilliant human beings that come to my class every day?
Thank you again for your time and attention.