“How can I help?” Four magical words that I need to remember to say more often to friends, family, and colleagues.

Here’s how six volunteers are helping Stand Illinois fight for educational equity and justice. Perhaps they may spark in you an idea for helping others; these folks definitely inspire me.

Melissa Hostetter is a first-grade teacher who is active in the Illinois Early Literacy Coalition. She’s playing a critical role in increasing awareness – including among legislators – around the reasons why Illinois must step up its game in early literacy. Melissa recently spoke at “Literacy & Justice for All,” an event hosted by the Coalition. (Her presentation begins at 10:56). Melissa explains in an incredibly approachable way about achievable policy changes to support reading instruction for Illinois students.

Stand’s COVID Safety Care campaign is targeting some of the areas that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. The care team went to over 2,000 doors in three weeks, sharing resources for getting the facts about COVID. None of this would have been possible without the help of good people like the amazing Nastassia BallardKeith Wilson, and Savannah Snyder. (They’re pictured with Stand staff member Tommorrow Snyder.)

As we celebrate Veterans’ Day this week, we say a special thank you to Keith for his service to our country. Keith is an Army veteran who served in the Middle East. Our hugs to you, Keith.

Next up, amazing parents and students are volunteering with the Learn from History Coalition. In order for students to create a better society, schools need to provide a thorough, accurate, and fact-based history education. Among the many contributions made by Laurie Goldstein to this effort is sharing her story with the Illinois Times. Equally powerful are efforts from Jennifer Lind, who was a guest on the Beyond the Beltway radio program.

Please also join me in congratulating three staff members for their recent promotions.

As our Government Affairs Director for over 10 years, Jessica Handy played a key role in every education-related policy that Stand has fought for, while also devoting significant time to our bi-partisan political work. Jessica has been so motivated by the amazing people she met through our recent early literacy work that she has begun Orton-Gillingham training so she can tutor children who struggle with reading. She will transition to the role of Stand’s Policy Director where she will continue to lead the Early Literacy Coalition and focus on policy and implementation matters. Meanwhile, Aimee Galvin, is stepping into the Government Affairs Director role. She’s more than hit the ground running already, building off her political, agency-level, and coalition efforts for the last several years at Stand.

Tommorrow Snyder has been promoted to Community and Family Partnerships Director. The title is long because her reach is so far; Tommorrow’s work with policymakers, parents, and community members is always impactful, innovative, and honest.

If we can help you, please let me know. If you would like to help us, well, please also let me know.

Four news flashes about members of the Stand Illinois Team.

Tommorrow Snyder, Stand’s Regional Organizing Director, has been appointed to the statewide Work Group for implementation of the Jett Hawkins Act. This Act bans hair discrimination in schools. Tommorrow brings a rich perspective to this issue – in addition to leading Stand’s community and family engagement partnerships, she is a licensed cosmetologist. The Jett Hawkins Law Work Group is working with the Illinois State Board of Education to create a model toolkit and resource guide for schools.

The Springfield Business Journal has selected Jessica Handy, Stand’s Government Affairs Director, for its annual 40 Under 40 list. Jessica’s inclusion on this list of movers and shakers highlights the dedication and impact she has across the state and in her hometown. She has been a leader in advocating for increased school funding, a more equitable funding formula, and access to advanced coursework. When asked for her proudest professional accomplishment, Jessica cited legislation that stopped millions of federal funds from being siphoned each year from classrooms serving low-income students and students with disabilities. Jessica is a mom, a foster mom, and an affordable housing advocate.

For a few years now, the Stand Illinois office has had the tremendous help of Brandi Watts, a colleague who would travel back and forth from our Texas affiliate. We’re thrilled that she has now moved to the Prairie State and joins us as Stand’s Educator Partnerships Director. Brandi leads our educator engagement strategies and will be helping shape state and district education policy, while continuing to play a key role in our organization’s national Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts.

To commemorate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Chicago honored 12 individuals for their contributions to their communities and the entire city. Mimi Rodman, Stand’s Executive Director, was one of these honorees and was selected for her support and advocacy for the Chicago’s youth. Mimi is a first-generation Korean American. Chicago has the fifth largest population of Asian Americans in the country.

Kim Payton was a force of nature when it came to speaking up for children and her community. She put in the hours, knocked on the doors, made the connections, and kept pushing for what’s right. She was like a superhero, standing up to make things better for everyone.

She was also a genuine and gracious person. It’s hard to comprehend that my friend passed away, but I will always remember her humor and warmth. Our relationship was woven together through the bonds of action and getting involved in something bigger than ourselves. We both wanted what’s best for our children and our communities. Working through Stand, we were able to accomplish so much together.

The photo accompanying this blog is one that I love. That’s Kim on the right in the bright pink top and me holding the sign. We were at a rally for fair school funding – another one of those events Kim never missed.

Kim joined the inaugural class of Stand Parent Fellows, taking her advocacy and connection to Stand to another level. She was a mentor to other parents, a friend to all, and a welcoming presence at each event she attended.

It’s because of that dedication and engagement that we are so proud today to announce the Kimberly Payton Parent Fellowship.

Kim is the only person we could possibly name our parent fellowship after. Her advocacy spanned years and her resolve to stand up for all children and communities knew no bounds.

This is a truly fitting way to honor Kim here at Stand. She will continue to serve as a role model for all parent members and fellows. Her example shines bright, and her personal motto, “each one, teach one, reach one,” is now imprinted into our work.

I miss my friend terribly. But as those pangs of grief come and go, I also feel a deep sense of gratitude for having had her in my life. I feel motivated to continue the work. I feel committed to making a difference.

I will honor Kim’s legacy. I hope you will, too, because the work begins again, in her honor.

One of the most remarkable parents I have had the privilege of knowing during my time at Stand is Kimberly Payton. Many folks called her Kimmie, and the passion and depth of caring she brought to her advocacy was infectious.

I am terribly sad to tell you that Kim recently and suddenly passed away. She leaves behind five children and an irreplaceable void here at Stand.

Kim’s personal motto was “each one, teach one, reach one.” She lived by those words every day. No matter what life threw at her, Kim found ways to make her community a better place.

Kim first became involved with Stand in 2014 through our program, Stand University for Parents. She had been with us ever since, putting those advocacy skills to work across Chicago and the state. Kim was there when we fought for fair school funding. And she and her family participated in our early literacy programs, Beat the Odds Reading and Every Child Reads.

Kimmie was a constant at Stand as One retreats, welcoming folks with a warm smile and a contagious laugh. She shared her truth and made the retreats a safe and welcoming space where everyone felt like family. Kim served as chairperson of the Local School Council and vice-chairperson of the Parent Advisory Council, both at O’Keeffe School of Excellence.

One of Kim’s most profound legacies is the lower crime rates of the streets of her community. After a serious altercation at the school, Kim sprung to action to convince Chicago Public Schools that the children of South Shore needed Safe Passage. Teaming with Stand, Kim led a door-to-door campaign, collecting over 100 petition signatures. Kim later told me that she kept ringing doorbells even though she heard shots ringing down the street. You can read more about Kim’s heroic efforts and the impact they made.

I hope you’ll join me in saying a short prayer, sending a positive thought, or sharing a quiet moment with a loved one as a tribute to Kim.

Today, the Center for Antiracist Education (CARE) is launching to respond to the enormous number of teachers who want to contribute to ending racism in their schools and in society, but say they lack the tools, resources, and professional development to do so.

According to a survey conducted by EdWeek, 84% of teachers want to teach from an antiracist perspective, but only 14% feel they are well-equipped to do so. CARE will bridge this massive gap by empowering teachers to identify racism in learning materials, providing guidance on materials that align with antiracist principles, and offer valuable professional learning via a first-of-its-kind certification program. CARE will also conduct research and evaluation to rigorously assess the impact of its resources.

“Teachers see the tremendous suffering and strife and the massive waste of human potential that racism causes in society, and also how racism hurts and holds back students,” said CARE Executive Director Maureen Costello, who previously led the highly successful Teaching Tolerance program. “They want to help their students to do better and their schools and our society to be better by strengthening what they teach and how they teach it.”

CARE is an initiative of Stand for Children, a nonpartisan national nonprofit focused on ensuring all students receive a high quality, relevant education. CARE is led by widely respected educators Maureen Costello, Valeria Brown, and Kate Shuster and guided by a distinguished Advisory Board of educators and researchers including University of Pennsylvania Prof. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Harvard Kennedy School Prof. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, University of California, Berkeley Prof. Kris Gutiérrez, Ohio State University Prof. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, University of Texas at Austin Prof. Daina Ramey Berry, and National Teacher of the Year candidate Juliana Urtubey.

“Antiracist educators see the humanity and potential of every student and ensure that what we teach and how we teach helps students to flourish, see each others’ shared humanity and perspectives, and learn to recognize and combat racism and systemic inequities. It is our duty to holistically embody what it means to be antiracist educators,” said Urtubey, a learning strategist at Booker Elementary School in Las Vegas. “The outcome is huge — more joyful and just classrooms and a better future is achievable for every educator — and CARE is here to help every committed educator progress and reap the benefits.”

Across the country, hate crimes and racial terrorism are on the rise, as are the number of students who report experiencing hate-driven bullying by their peers. The rise of highly public acts of hate combined with the nation’s reckoning with racism and the stark racial inequities laid bare by the pandemic have produced an enormous appetite among teachers for tools and resources to help them ensure every student is seen and learns to see the world from different perspectives.

A dozen prominent groups of educators and education leaders, including AASA, The School Superintendents Association; the National Council for the Social Studies; and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) have already endorsed CARE’s principles for an antiracist future.

“Teachers are asking for the tools to do better,” said Stefanie Wager, President of the National Council for the Social Studies. “They know we ourselves were taught an incomplete version of the story of this country, and they know that we build a stronger country by building well-informed citizens. CARE is offering an answer to the question they’re asking.”

For more information about CARE, visit AntiracistFuture.org.

As a mentor and education advocate, I can say that a year ago, much of the content that’s in Stand’s “Stop Illinois Brain Drain” report was over my head. I didn’t really understand much of it, but I was interested in learning more and finding ways to fix the educational problems in our state.

The 2017-2018 Policy Fellowship helped me do just that. For the better part of a year, parents, educators, and community leaders like me – from all across the state – joined calls to discuss the issues impacting high school success in our state. We learned the issues. We talked to the experts. We picked their brains and asked them the tough questions. We discussed amongst ourselves recommendations to help put a plug in Illinois’ brain drain.

One issue that piqued my interest was individualized coursework. It might not sound like much, but we learned that courses tailored to students’ individual needs and career pathways are one of the best ways to bring Illinois high school education into the twenty-first century.

Next, competency-based learning allows students to advance towards graduation by demonstrating they have mastered the knowledge or skills to meet benchmarks instead of following the traditional approach of passing specific classes. Dual credit and Advanced Placement share a common goal of giving students a jumpstart on their post-high school education by earning college credits while still in high school. Dual credit courses establish partnerships between a school and an individual college or university. Although courses and costs vary, they allow students to earn credit in a particular career pathway. AP courses are more difficult than regular high school classes, and students become eligible for college credit by taking a standardized exam at the end of the school year.

In order to improve high school education for all Illinois students in this area of individualized coursework, Stand fellows suggested in the Stop Illinois Brain Drain report to:

  • Build more cross-community partnerships and expand course access. Districts and community colleges should pool their resources and offer more specialized courses to students. Partnerships don’t have to be 1:1; they can join forces with neighboring districts and community colleges. Check out the report for numerous examples of successful partnerships already in existence throughout Illinois. Good models exist – we just need more of them.
  • Utilize the Illinois Virtual School to increase access to dual credit, AP, and other advanced courses. IVS was established to supplement – not replace – the education provided by schools. Each IVS course is taught by a licensed teacher, aligns with statewide standards, and offers credit to students. IVS offers 12 AP courses and several advanced courses. However, for rural schools that don’t offer one AP course, IVS could open the door to AP classes for their students. To clear that path, a few hurdles need to be addressed:
    • Policymakers need to address the inequity of IVS enrollment by requiring IVS tuition to follow a sliding pay scale based on a district’s funding adequacy levels.
    • Increase access to broadband internet for every school.
    • Offer more dual credit courses through IVS.
  • Increase the number of teachers for dual credit courses. Districts and community colleges should take two important steps to accomplish this: maximize their professional development plan agreements to provide a pathway for teachers to become qualified to teach dual credit; and develop a model partnership agreement between high schools and community colleges for dual credit programs.
  • Encourage innovation. Our state policymakers can incentivize districts to test competency-based learning approaches by funding small grants for participating districts. After that, districts should explore alternatives for students who aren’t suited for the traditional approach. Learning – and earning high school credits – shouldn’t be bound by four walls and the school calendar.

There is a lot more to these issues, so I encourage you to read the full Stop Illinois Brain Drain report. Be on the lookout for more summaries like this one from other Stand Policy Fellows, to help break down the recommendations of the report.

As a former teacher who recently left the classroom, I know I will never leave behind the education issues I care about. So when I began to explore my role as an advocate outside of the classroom, one program that jumped out at me was Stand’s Policy Fellowship. The detailed policy discussions, the conversations with advocates from across the state, and the chance to advocate and influence policy discussions all piqued my interest. The Fellowship has expanded my understanding of civic and political advocacy.

The 2017-2018 Fellowship focused on student college and career readiness in Illinois. While the majority of my previous work centered around elementary education, this experience allowed me to explore the opposite end of the education system.

Stand’s policy team provided regular informational workshops surrounding the impacts of the Post-Secondary Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Additionally, we engaged with community members, elected officials, and experts in the field who deepened our understanding of the postsecondary landscape in Illinois – and where advocates like us could make a difference.

One conversation that I particularly enjoyed was with Katharine Gricevich of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her discussion on higher education access and affordability resonated with my interest in advancing opportunities and outcomes for students from underserved areas.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Illinois Capitol with other Stand Fellows. While in Springfield we spoke with legislators about student college and career readiness. During these conversations, I was excited to learn that legislators were interested in hearing my perspective as a former educator. These discussions further encouraged my passion for advancing teacher voice and influence within political discourse.

As I reflect on these impactful conversations and experiences as a Stand Fellow, I am excited and motivated to continue my advocacy efforts.

Before participating in the Stand Fellowship, I was unsure of how to scale my advocacy impact. Now I am eager to continue my civic and political engagement efforts in support of educational excellence and equity.

I also hope to stay connected with Stand’s work in Illinois and the Fellows across the state. Their passion for education has deeply impacted my own work and approach to advocacy. I know that my advocacy will continue and that I will remain engaged with these issues in the future.

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.

–Abby Schultz

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.

–Kayla Valenti

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.

–Cymone Card