Last month, Stand for Children Policy Fellows Cymone Card, Abby Schultz, Dovie Shelby, and Kayla Valenti joined Stand staff on a visit to the state capital. This was a prime opportunity for the Fellows to meet up and make a difference together at the Capitol and also attend an insightful event that evening. While in Springfield, the group toured the Capitol building and had a chance to meet with several legislators to discuss education policy. That evening, the group attended a forum on school improvement hosted by Advance Illinois in partnership with other organizations, including Stand. At the forum, Rockford Public Schools, having received national recognition for developing community-aligned career academies, joined a panel discussion to share lessons from their own success.
Three of the Fellows, Abby, Kayla, and Cymone, shared their stories from the day. We hope you enjoy them and learn more about their advocacy and commitment to improving education in Illinois.
The atmosphere of Springfield was abuzz with the adrenaline and the anticipation of state government. We Fellows entered the stoic Capitol building with one eye on the décor and the other on the policy makers. Aimee and Jessica [ed note: Stand’s Policy & Government Affairs Manager and Government Affairs Director, respectively] guided us through the building, trying to connect us to our representatives and answering our many questions. With their help, I had the absolute pleasure in meeting State Senator Biss, whose down-to-earth approach to an (admittedly) giddy citizen (i.e. me) only increased my admiration of him. Meeting him, along with other elected officials, put a human side to politics. After all, the names behind policies are people, like me and like you. State government can be so accessible to Illinoisans if we know where to look--and if we take the time to reach out.
After touring the Capitol and meeting some inspirational people, the legislator forum on cradle to career education only added to this wonderful experience. Rockford has felt the effects of urbanization in its community, especially with Chicago so nearby. What their school board has done is quite innovative: investing in time, money, and community-centered opportunities in their high school students. By investing in their younger citizens, Rockford is giving students the incentive to stay in the area and use their talents to build their community as they delve into their post-secondary education and career. I hope to see other communities all around the U.S. do the same. By investing in education, by giving youth opportunities to start their post-secondary lives through accessible and affordable means, communities will thrive. Let's hope Rockford is only the beginning of the ripple in connecting students to community.
As a former fifth-grade teacher, I often wondered about how decisions regarding education were made. There were many political decisions and initiatives that had a direct impact on my classroom, however, I felt unsure of how to navigate conversations surrounding the complexities of the policy-making process. My experience as a Stand Policy Fellow has allowed me to develop the confidence to participate in an area that once felt overwhelming and intimidating. Traveling to Springfield and meeting with legislators at the Capital has motivated me to be a more active citizen and voice my opinions and concerns regarding education. I look forward to continuing my engagement in political discourse and advocacy-work that supports policies that best serve students. Whether that means setting up an appointment to meet with a representative, or further developing my own understanding of specific policies, I feel more confident to advocate for high-quality education in Illinois.
My time in Springfield was eye opening. I have been losing hope about the progress our country is making around education. However, my time in Springfield left me energized and excited. I was able to listen to wonderful speakers discuss how they collaborate to better the outcomes for children. Rockford is using an impressive model that brings different parts of the community together. One thing I have learned is that there is not a one size fits all solution for education. For example, what might work in New York City or Chicago may not work for Rockford or East St. Louis. Members of a community should learn from other communities that are successful. From there, a community can have a real conversation on what will work for their specific community. Collective impact can regenerate a community, and have very real and lasting impacts for children.