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Ms. Williams Goes to Washington

Access to High-Quality Schools, Legislation, Parent & Family Engagement | 01/27/2015

Darlene Williams
Stand for Children Parent Leader

I can honestly tell you that advocating for education is one of the most important experiences I’ve ever had. It’s certainly not one of the easiest, with many issues getting pulled into ugly partisan debates that go nowhere.

But when I heard that Stand for Children was bringing parents from Chicago on a trip to Washington, DC to attend a Congressional hearing and meet with our legislators, I knew I had to be on that trip. But the thing is, before last week’s trip, I had never even set foot on an airplane. Never once taken a flight.

Because the new Congress is focused on reauthorizing the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, it was clear to me that my voice in DC was more important than any fears I might have had about flying there. I know that everyone has heard about No Child Left Behind on the news, but once you learn more about it, you realize just how big of an impact the law has on our children. The bill was originally a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That included the government’s aid program for students from disadvantaged areas, and No Child Left Behind includes other ways of measuring student achievement through goals and tests. In a nutshell, this is a law that strongly affects education policy in our country, and the voices of parents like you and me are critical during the reauthorization process.

When we arrived on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, we immediately got in line to attend the hearing of the Senate education committee. I was looking forward to hearing the testimony and questions from Senators about this important bill. And let me tell you, after seeing Capitol Hill on TV and learning about the legislative process in school, it was very impressive to see how Washington works up close and in person. This trip really was a good civics lesson for our group.

After the hearing, we split up to meet with staff members of our Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. I attended the meeting with Senator Durbin’s staff member, and it was a great meeting. I told my story as a parent leader from North Lawndale and the school issues that face my community, including the lack of funding for after-school programs. It was incredibly fulfilling to have my voice heard on this issue, knowing that the staff member was engaged in the conversation and wanted to learn more about my experience and viewpoint. He asked a number of follow up questions and truly cared about how the bill will affect my family and community.

Some other parents from across the country were also in Washington to advocate on this bill. It was wonderful to meet these parents and know that we were all working toward a common goal. There’s going to be a big debate when it comes to this bill, because it’s crucial to holding our schools accountable for educating all students. That’s why I am so grateful for the opportunity to speak out and be heard.

The Congressional hearing and meeting with Senator Durbin’s staff were definitely the highlight of the trip, but I would be lying if I said I did not appreciate seeing some of the historical sites in Washington. On the night before the hearing and meeting, we toured the National Mall and made stops at the Lincoln Memorial, Marine Corps Memorial, and FDR Memorial. We also visited the new memorial for Dr. King. It was incredibly powerful to visit that memorial only a few short days after our national holiday remembering his life and work. We were all inspired and motivated for the work we had ahead of us the next day.

Now, I have signed a number of online petitions and e-mails during my time with Stand for Children. But it was very powerful to know that I played even a small part in shaping a law that affects so many children’s futures – legislation intended to ensure every child regardless of race, gender or ZIP code receives the education they deserve. That’s why I flew halfway across the country to advocate for our kids. And it’s why now is the time for you to add your voice with mine and contact our Senators to tell them to improve No Child Left Behind.

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