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.

 

Multitudes

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Multitudes
Multitudes
MULTITUDES
all lost right now
floundering and flirting with danger
seeking answers and finding closed minds
closed hearts
and perilous half-truths.
Multitudes of young people ~
they need to be lead out
of the bottom place
and become the top
because these multitudes
are beautiful ~ so lovely
so precious.
Remember the multitudes
never forget
always reach for them
never turn your back
turn the world to them.
Turn the world upside down
and inside out.
This is our calling…

Who Will Carry This Torch?

I wrote this poem eleven years ago. I return to it today and just want to weep. What are we doing to our children? Who will save them? Who will carry the torch of knowledge for the next generation and for the generation behind us?

 

No one to close the windows
when the rain storm pellets their beds.
No one to lock the doors at night
and keep intruders from walking in.
No one to warm up dinner and
feed their craving little bodies.
No one to scare away the dragons
who star in their dreams at night.

Abandoned.
Forsaken.
Forgotten.
Alone.

The children are
thrown away –
labeled incorrigible –
impossible –
beyond our abilities to help.

The achievement gap widens.
The terrain becomes more barren.
The house falls into further decay.
The green in the landscape
slowly
silently
serenely
melds into
grey.

When will
no child
be left
behind?

Then, I came across this beautiful hand drawing today and it  gave me new hope. This is drawn by a 15 year old girl from the Philippines and brings hope for change. Let it start here in our own country and in our own hearts.

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A Lone Teacher Talks Back: An Educator on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation

As far as Poetic Justice is concerned, all metrics need to be eliminated from the evaluation process. This may be a radical thought in this age of teaching reform, but it is not a radical idea to those who are pure educators.

This is what a valid teacher evaluation checklist would look like if I were in charge of my own building. This is what my own personal self-evaluation looks like:

1. Are the children safe?
2. Are the children the focus of the classroom?
3. Does the teacher recognize and respond to the individual needs, strengths, and giftings in the class?
4. Is the teacher helping, not harming her students?
5. Is each student regarded as more than a data point?
6. Is the teacher connecting content to the life experiences of his students and their collective situations?
7. Is the teacher sensitive to the backgrounds and cultures of her students?
8. Is the teacher striving for synthesis of content into her students’ learning schema?
9. Is the teacher doing much more than just delivering prescribed content to a prescribed time table?
10. Is the teacher using her own teacher created lessons and materials?
11. Is the teacher respecting and cherishing student voice?
12. Are writing and reading considered a joy by the teacher and by the students?
13. Is there present a pedagogy based on love, joy, and compassion?
14. Is the teacher actively growing in her own professional development?
15. Is the teacher sharing and contributing to her colleagues successful practice?
16. Is the teacher aware of her craft as an art as well as a science?
17. Are ALL assessments used to help the student and to inform instruction?
18. Is there a holistic dimension to assessment taking into account cognitive as well as affective domains of learning?
19. Is creativity regarded by both students and teacher as the highest form of learning?
20 Are the children safe?

This checklist is is direct opposition to the findings at this weekend’s Network for Public Education convention report and is in opposition to current evaluation systems. Poetic Justice is not saying all data is irrelevant; I am saying that data is only one small part of a teacher’s toolkit.

I left a career in the business sector expressly because I wanted to help children. I wanted to devote my life to the welfare of humanity not to some corporation’s bottom line. Today’s approach to teaching and learning is far more dehumanizing than even the approaches I experienced in business. At least in the business sector, the customer was always considered and any harm to that customer could result in litigation.

My plea is for those in educational power positions, to please consider the harm being done to children and teachers when only metrics are considered important.

 

Please join a FaceBook page I administer with the Walking Man – Dr. Jesse Turner Teachers Are More than Test Scores.

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Silent and Compliant

What we have in our schools today is not my idea of a healthy, holistic, nurturing education. We need to return to a paradigm where we cherish children, creativity, and the teacher-artist.

 

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Silent
Compliant
Nonviolent
Invisible

Do our students even really exist anymore?
Or have they each become
just a data point?

Dead
All dead
not one alive
willing to risk
willing to scream
for their lives.

We have hidden
them all
and thrown them away – the outliers.

All that is left
are the silent
compliant
nonviolent
invisible children.

My Criteria for a Model School by Mark Naison

1. Children are loved and walk around the school with smiles on their faces.
2. Teachers are respected and stay in their jobs for a long time.
3. Parents are welcome in the school and are made to feel an integral part of the culture of the school.
4. The culture and history of the community the school is located is honored in displays and in what is taught in classes.
5. Arts, physical education, recess and sports are NEVER sacrificed for higher test scores.
6. ELL and Special Needs students are treated with respect and are given the counseling and special attention they need to thrive.
7. Students have such a positive experience at the school that they return on a regular basis after they have graduated.

If you think that these features are only found in private schools or schools in affluent middle schools, you need to visit the CASA Middle School in the Bronx where Jamaal Bowman is the principal.

This is not only something that CAN be done in all communities, it is something that MUST be done so that ALL our children can grow up with confidence in their abilities.

And Poetic Justice would add to the list the following:
8. All children will be encouraged to find and use their voices in academic subjects and particularly in creative writing and POETRY classes.

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