Thousands of parents, students and teachers came together on the New Haven Green to demand bold action to ensure every Connecticut child can attend an excellent school. See the release here, and read more from Pem McNerney from the Hartford Courant below.
By Pem McNerney
December 3, 2014
New Haven--Several thousand children, teachers, parents, activists and politicians from all over the state stood in the chilly rain for two hours on the New Haven green Wednesday morning to rally on behalf of educational equity. For many of those in attendance, the event was a matter of making a large, loud statement that all children in the state are entitled to an equal shot at learning, growing, and thriving at a great school, now.
For Jesus Reyes, a teenager and student at Common Ground High School in New Haven, gaining admittance to a great school felt like a matter of life and death.
"I have no idea where I'd be or whether I'd be alive or not," if not for the guidance offered by Common Ground High School, Reyes said during his speech to the cheering crowd. "Initially I did not want to go to Common Ground. When I was accepted the school really changed my life. I've made long-lasting relationships with everyone there. I've been accepted to the University of Maine ... and plan to follow a career as an environmental conservation office and advocate. All because I attended Common Ground High School, a great school."
Reyes, and about a dozen other speakers, called for immediate grass roots and political action to improve the state's struggling and under-performing schools. They said there are more than 40,000 students performing below grade level in failing schools in Connecticut. The huge educational disparity for these children, most of them poor and of color, is unacceptable and should be rectified immediately, they said.
Attendees from New Haven to New York
Organizers of the rally included The Coalition for Every Child, ConnCAN, Families for Excellent Schools, the Northeast Charter School Network, Achievement First, and Achieve Hartford. While most of those groups are strong advocates of public charter schools or are charter school organizations, several speakers urged attendees to make their plea on behalf of all children in all schools. Students, parents, and teachers in attendance included many from New Haven, and others from Hartford, Bridgeport, and as far away as Bronx, NY.
In between the speeches, D.j. Meechie and D.j. Prestige from CBS Radio in Hartford played music for the crowd, and the Achievement First Amistad High Drum Corps performed as well. Throughout, teachers and parent volunteers circulated in the crowd, ensuring the children had rain ponchos and hand warmers, and were behaving.
In addition to addressing educational equity, the rally became overtly political at times. In addition to the politicians who spoke at the rally, other speakers praised Gov. Dannel Malloy and his educational initiatives. Several speakers encouraged participants to remember the police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. by putting their hands up. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by police in Cleveland, and Brown were commemorated with a moment of silence.
"You see, great schools provide so much support it's nearly impossible to fail," Reyes, the student from Common Ground High School said. "Great schools are spaces where students are pushed to dream and succeed. Unfortunately, not all schools provide that environment. There are 40,000 kids with all of the potential in the world, but not all of them have the opportunity to receive an education offered by great schools."
"The message is simple ... "
State Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-7th District, said he traveled to the New Haven green Wednesday from Hartford to reinforce that message.
"It's very simple ...The message is very simple, we need to provide quality education for all our children, whether you are in charter schools, magnet schools, or neighborhood schools," McCrory said. "Do not let people divide you! You have brothers and sisters out there who are not in great charter schools and they need your help also. So do not let the system divide you from your brethren who are in your neighborhood school ... "
"We hear your message at the capitol. We are going to work hard to make sure every child is provided a quality education ... I will bring your message back to my colleagues," McCrory said. "All of our children, all of our teachers, all of our communities need to be supported, because you are our future. Bring your brethren from other schools next time we have a rally at the capitol. Working together we can achieve for everyone."
Jen Alexander, the chief executive officer of ConCAN, said after the rally that there are no specific plans for a rally at the state capitol building in Hartford, but she said she wouldn't rule it out, either.
"We certainly are thinking about it," she said. "We are looking to see how things unfold [in the upcoming legislative session]." She said that it took several weeks to organize Wednesday's rally and that she wasn't sure how much the buses, the bright yellow t-shirts, the rain ponchos, the handwarmers, and the other arrangements cost. "We're still adding up the numbers," she said.
"Change doesn't come without a struggle"
Ben Cruse, Principal, Achievement First Hartford Academy, also encouraged the crowd to think of all of the children in Connecticut who do not have access to a quality education. He also cautioned the crowd to not be drawn in by the sometimes bitter debate surrounding charter schools, magnet schools, and how they compete with financial resources with neighborhood schools.
"Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can drive out hate ... This right here is love," he said of the rally. He also reminded the crowd that change can take time.
"Your parents, your grandparents got together to make change," he said. "Change doesn't come without a struggle."
Organizers, who bused in students and other attendees from all over the state, estimated that 6,000 people were in attendance.
The list of speakers included Ben Cruse, Principal, Achievement First Hartford Academy; Pastor Eldren Morrison, Varick Memorial AME Zion Church; Tara Maxwell, parent, Achievement First Bridgeport Academy; Ronnelle Swaggerty -- CEO, New Beginnings Family Academy; Jack Bryant, NAACP; Mayor Bill Finch, City of Bridgeport; Doug McCrory, State Representative; Claudia Phillips, parent, Achievement First Bridgeport Academy; Ebony Pitts, student, Amistad Academy High School; Jesus Reyes, student, Common Ground High School; and Dr. Steve Perry, Capital Prep Magnet School.
This article originally appeared on the Hartford Courant.
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