As a Democracy For America scholarship winner, I've had more opportunities over the past week than most young people could ever dream. I attended NN14 and learned what the progressive blogger community has and will continue to accomplish. There aren't really words to explain what it feels like to be part of a massive protest that achieves real, life-saving results for actual people. We did that. We prevented widespread water shut-offs for the most vulnerable citizens of Detroit for at least two weeks, and we're also coalescing to pay off water bills to slow down the failures perpetrated by our elected officials. That is incredible.
As amazing as that moment was for all of us, I'd be lying if I said it was the first time I've felt the power of a grassroots movement to make collective change.
I guess that's where my story begins, and I'll tell you it in a moment. I'd just like to say how much every panel, every person, every organization that this community represents makes me wake up every morning knowing that anything is possible, and that absolutely everything is on the line. We cannot rest, and if we're going to make a real difference, we have to work together.
I'll share my story below the fold.
My name is Colleen Kennedy, and I am a 24 year old activist and writer from outside of Philadelphia. My core values come from the challenges I've had to overcome and the people who I've met, and that is why I will always be a loud, unapologetic advocate for public schools for all, no matter their zip code.
As a toddler, my single mother took me to see doctors about what she saw to be neurological and developmental delays. She was right, but our one doctor, who diagnosed my as "borderline mentally retarded, at best" was very wrong. Investment in early intervention programs, where a team of educators and diagnosticians evaluated me, figured out my exact learning differences, and outlined a comprehensive plan for me to catch up, saved my life.
By kindergarten, I was reading chapter books, and by the end of elementary school, I was a combination IEP/GIEP student. (This means I had an individualized education plan for my learning difficulties, but I was also considered a member of the gifted program.) Art and music programs, as well as opportunities to write creatively, helped me to thrive. I strongly believe that if enough resources are invested to provide this individual approach to all students, the returns on investment would astound us all.
I graduated high school in 2008, just a handful of months before Governor Corbett entered office, and with that, disastrous cuts and fringe policies for students and teachers. My local school district, Upper Darby School District, quickly ran low on reserve funds, and our school board was forced to cut the very programs that not only saved my life, but served as an equalizer across many groups of students. They cut summer tutoring programs that had helped to raise reading and math test scores for students falling behind, and they reduced the number of personal aides in special education classrooms. Literacy coaches were considered a luxury, and our significant ELL population had to get by with less. Safety even became an issue, and by the time 2012 came around, there was no option but to make significant cuts to music, art, physical education, library, foreign language, and technology programs, all investments in the economic opportunities of students' future adult lives.
I took action, and created a video and petition that gained national press coverage. We held rallies and raised money for a bus to Harrisburg, where we rallied and lobbied some more. We even encouraged hundreds of students, teachers, and community members from all over the country to send in messages of support, and we were inundated.
Thanks to the collective voices of parents, students, alumni, and quite a few celebrities who believed in the idea of educating the complete child, not farming them out for the profit of testing and text book companies, we won.
We made a historical, progressive victory a reality - the Pennsylvania state legislature, which is Republican-controlled just like the Governor's Mansion, decided amid the uproar to restore $2.7 million in funding to our school district. We brought back 57 teaching professionals across music, art, physical education, library, technology, and foreign language programs.
This past year, I started a political action committee, and our goal is to elect just a few state legislators who will be warriors for public education in Harrisburg. This is our website.
During the Pennsylvania primary, we backed a progressive candidate who understood the challenges that our public schools face, and who, unlike his incumbent Democratic opponent, would not bow to the special interests who want to privatize our schools.
We came close to winning, very close, with a margin of a little over 400 votes. Not bad for our first try.
I am writing this diary to ask you with all the humility in the world - will you help me?
We need people to make donations, large and small, and we need to spread the word. If you've been following the struggles of the School District of Philadelphia at all, you know the importance of this cause.
Please donate, then share my diary with friends and family. If we can get lots of supporters of public education to sacrifice just a little, I know we can win, because we've been victorious before.