A Student Hero – Coral Ortiz – “Today is About the Truth”

It has been a while since Poetic Justice featured a student hero but Coral Ortiz deserves the title. As published in The New Haven Independent,  and with Coral’s permission, here is the text of her graduation speech from James Hillhouse High School in New Haven, CT.

Not only does Coral speak with a powerful voice for her fellow classmates, she speaks also for each of my own students, and, I believe for multitudes of students in the United States.

Coral also served on the New Haven Board of Education as well as the State Board of Education.

Speak on Coral – Write on – and we wish you the best of all possible things as you begin the next phase in your education at Yale University.

BRAVO

Here is her speech:

I would like to start by first and foremost thanking God and every person who helped us get where we are today. In particular, thank you to our friends and families who supported us as we worked towards this moment, and who are here supporting us as we graduate. I would like to personally thank my teachers, mentors, counselors and all of my peers and friends. Lastly and most importantly, my family: I could not thank my parents enough for the support they gave me.

I’ve thought a lot about this day; about what I want to say, and what message I want to send. I thought about preparing something different, but as I thought, I decided it was best to share the truth. The truth about what this day actually means. The truth about what we as a class represent.

When we were young, we were taught that we were “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Our country taught us that no matter our income or race, we would all have the same chance to achieve our dreams. We were taught that there would never be a bias against a certain group of people, and that society believes in each and every one of us. These lessons of equality were taught as self-evident. These lessons of equality have and continue to be a lie.

The reality is that despite the fact that we recite the words “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” it has been 50 years since the civil rights movement that our country has never been equal. We—a class mostly made up of minority, low income, and first generation students—have had the odds stacked against us, but here we are standing at this graduation with 3 state championships, college acceptances, and one of largest increases in graduation rates in the State, because we didn’t let the inherent inequality stop us from achieving our goals.

I would be lying if I said today is like any other day, because today is not like any other day. Most importantly, Today is not your typical high school graduation; it is more than that. Today is the day when we walk across a stage and take our diplomas, as an act of defiance to those who said we could not. We have had many students, administrators, and teachers come and go. We have had heart break; we have had our nation turn its backs on us, through supporting those who support hate. So, to those that believed my classmates and I were incapable, I have decided to leave a message for you:

To the teacher who said my classmates and I would fail and that the taxpayers wasted resources on our education -– Today, we teach you that you were wrong.

To the counselor who told me students at this school never get into prestigious colleges – we didn’t let your perception of us define who we are.

To the people who assume we are robbing their stores because of the color of our skin – don’t judge a book by its cover.

To the people who told us that only boys were good at math – Girls are more than just pretty faces.

To the people who violated our bodies – no means no.

To the people who questioned our dedication to the things we were involved in – you didn’t see our sleepless nights and three championship trophies.

To the person who believed that our socio-economic status would define us – you do not need to be a millionaire to succeed.

To the lady on the bus who told me my peers and I would go to jail because of the high school we attended – we are still free.

To the politicians and corporations that refuse to address gun violence because it might cost them money- life has no price.

To the people who assume that our names are too ghetto to be qualified – our names have taken us farther than you could have imagined.

To the leaders who thought it was okay to make decisions that forced us to go to classes without textbooks – it is far from okay.

To the person who told us we only got into college because we were minorities – the color of one’s skin does not determine intelligence.

To the people that talked poorly about us in the newspaper – you taught us how to be fearless.

To the people who thought it was okay to experiment with our education – the math of 5 principals in 4 years just doesn’t add up.

To the people who want to privatize education – public education is the reason we succeeded.

To the politicians who choose unqualified people to affect our lives because you feel loyal to your party – you did not take a vow to serve a party. You
took a vow to serve the people.

To the person who believes my classmates and I are dangerous – we are human.

To the people who told me my friends and I are not beautiful – black is beautiful.

To those who believed that my peers and I would drop out – looks like you were wrong.

To everyone who voted for hate – love wins.

I could go on for hours talking about the people who defined us as something other than successful. But today is not solely about the obstacles that were placed in front of us. Today is about the truth. The fact that there were several times people underestimated us and we were able to prove them wrong. We stand here and take our diplomas not only as an act of defiance, but also as an act of gratitude. Thankful for the adults that cared, thankful for the teacher that spent hours educating us, thankful for the parents, family members, counselors, friends, politicians, and mentors that believed we could make it to this moment.

We could not have done this without you because it takes a village to raise a child.  Despite the fact that our education was treated like an experiment, lacked in resources, and was marked by the presence of people who stopped believing we were capable, we did it. In 6 years we were capable of going from a 51 percent graduation rate to a 91 percent graduation rate. Today we acknowledge the fact that our country is not equal and that we have it harder than many other people. We acknowledge that, despite this inequality, we beat the odds. We did it, and now we have the chance to not only reach our own dreams, but also to help others reach theirs.

If we were able to overcome all of these obstacles, then there is nothing that can stop us. No one that can stop us, no dream that we can’t reach, and no adversity that we cannot overcome, because in the end, they said we couldn’t, so we did, and when they say we won’t, we will. Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2017.

 

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Lacey Slekar – our Newest Student Hero

On May 22, 2015, 12 year old Lacey Slekar stood in front of the Board of Education in her school district and tried to convince the adults in the room that standardized testing is bad for children. Her speech was eloquent, well-organized, and very persuasive. She is a hero for writing and delivering a speech that truly presented the student point of view.

Her father, Tim Slekar who writes the Busted Pencils:Fully Leaded Education Talk blog and pod-cast, was not aware his daughter was even researching this topic. As Tim writes in his own blog post,

“Lacey wrote a research paper about standardized testing. We had no idea she was doing this until she asked Tim for some advise. She felt very strongly about sharing her findings with the school board. Her teachers encouraged her to read it, so she did. Wow, very proud of our BustED Pencils Student Correspondent.”

Here is the video of this student hero fighting to eliminate standardized testing from her school:

And here is the text of her persuasive speech:

Hello, my name is Lacey Slekar and I am a student at Badger Ridge middle school. I am here to share with you my concerns about standardized testing. I believe Standardized testing should be banned from all schools.

First of all, Standardized testing causes harmful stress on students. The stress and pressure put on students is not healthy. It can cause kids to cry, vomit, and get angry with themselves, or all at the same time. Students should not have to take the whole year preparing and stressing over one test that doesn’t even count towards your overall student grade. In the past, one student I know got so stressed about the test that she ended up wetting her pants. That is definitely not healthy.

Secondly, Standardized tests are an unreliable measure of student performance. Your test score can be affected by your physical and mental feelings that one day of testing. A series of tests throughout the year can accurately measure your student performance. Standardized testing does not provide feedback on student performance. Results aren’t given back to teachers until months later. For a student who may creatively answer, doesn’t get full credit because the test is graded by a machine or by someone who is not qualified and will be marked wrong for not following the correct format. Students should be able to think outside the box and still get full credit for it.

Lastly, Standardized testing is wasting time and money that should be being used for educational purposes. Dr. Timothy Slekar says it is a waste of time for teachers to prepare students for tests when they should be teaching students the correct things they need to be learning for their own education (bustedpencils.com). They are called teachers for a reason, not testers. According to standardizedtests.procon.org, No Child Left Behind on January 8, 2002, the amount of money spent on standardized tests rose from $423,000,000 to about 1.1 billion in 2008. This is an unacceptable waste of money that could be used for educational purposes instead of buying standardized tests.

I feel very strongly about my argument and I hope people will help put a STOP to standardized testing.

Lacey – we are all so proud of you and encourage you to keep researching, asking the tough questions, writing and speaking out for what you believe is the right thing. You are a Student Hero for sure!
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Luca Valentino – Another Student Hero Speaks Out Against Ed Reform

Another Student Hero – for sure!

“This letter is written by Luca Valentino. He is 11 years old and a 6th grader in a Westchester NY Middle School.

This is how our children feel. This is why we are here.”

stopcommoncorenys

This letter is written by Luca Valentino. He is 11 years old and a 6th grader in a Westchester NY Middle School.

This is how our children feel.  This is why we are here.

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Seems this child has had a pretty good education, even prior to common core. We couldn’t have said it better.

Shared with permission from his amazing parents. That’s an awesome kid you’re raising.

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Sanise Lebron – My Student Hero and My Soulmate

My friend and fellow activist Michael Elliott was published in the Huffington Post the other day. His article, You Can’t Measure This, is a powerful critique of the newly adopted teacher evaluation law in New York State. In this article, I met my newest student hero – Sanise Lebron.

Michael and his co-author, Kemala Karmen, have reminded us of the most powerful force in the battle to reclaim our public schools. They have caused us to recognize the secret weapon for conquering the invading armies of reformers. They have presented to us STUDENT VOICE.

Please take 3 minutes and 33 seconds to watch as Sanise appeals to the hearts of our fathers and to the hearts of our daughters. As you watch this, remember that Sanise is only in 8th grade and is speaking to her peers at CASA Middle School in the Bronx. It is powerful.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/123437662″>Sanise Lebron – CASA MIddle School, Bronx NY</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/michaelelliot”>nLightn Media</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Now – all you fathers – go and hug your daughters. And all you daughters, know that you are greatly loved even if your Dad is not around. And you education reformers – get your hands off our public schools and our children.

A Call To Action – Tweet For Principal Jamaal Bowman and CASA Middle School Students

First – please watch this amazing video produced by the students and staff at CASA Middle School in the Bronx. It is based on Sean Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

Second – TWEET out the following message:

VOTE 4 CASA MS Bronx NYC
100% GRAD RATE No bigger ROE THAN A LOVE OF LEARNING
@asugsvsummit @jamaalabowman #GSV2020vision

Jamaal and his students are in a competition. They need only 1,000 tweets today to beat PEARSON – yes, I said – PEARSON in The Voice of an Educator at an Ed Reform Event!

Third – share this far and wide.
If you are interested in reading more about the 7 habits – here is a document that summarizes them very nicely.     HB_Seven_Habits_of_Highly_Efffective_Teens8

A Saturday Poem – Priceless

Sometimes, I really have to remember why I am teaching. This morning I read through some of my old poems, just to get some hope and inspiration. I found this one that I wrote six years ago as I watched 21 young people receive their high school diplomas. I am in this teaching gig for the miracles – the miracles that occur when I am a very small part of transforming a young life.

Our kids are so much more than a test score.

I hope you like this one. If you are a teacher, I thank you for all you do for your students. Keep – keeping on. Don’t give up. Fight on for a better day for our children and grandchildren.

Priceless is the smile
on her face –
she who was abused
battered
violated at only four years old.

Priceless is the smile
on his face –
he who was ridiculed
demeaned
called filthy names by his friends.

Priceless is the smile
on their faces –
they who were once labeled incorrigible
a threat to the classroom
those kids who will never learn.

Priceless is the smile
on each face –
as they sit in cap and gown
with their senior class
and receive their high school diploma.

Who could ever put a price tag
on even one of their miracles?

And – one more little inspiration for you all today – Don’t Give Up from Peter Gabriel.