Being The Change | December 2011

DECEMBER 19, 2011—Season’s greetings, and welcome to a special holiday edition of Being The Change, the monthly newsletter of the Alliance for School Choice!  Since we last spoke to you, we’ve been overtaken by the holiday spirit, and we hope this holiday season is shaping up to be a joyous one for you and your family. We’ve also spent the past few weeks saying goodbye to some of the greatest school choice champions ever, but we’re reminded as we look back on the Year of School Choice that there are thousands of children across the nation who are getting a shot at a great education as a result of their hard work and generosity. In this, a time of reflection on the past year and a look forward to the next, we say thank you to them—and everyone—who works hard to give kids educational opportunity. And with that, on to the newsletter!

It’s December, so Stop What You’re Doing and…

…celebrate the holidays with the beneficiaries of school choice in the nation’s capital! More than 570 families participating in the newly reauthorized D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) attended an annual holiday party hosted by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation earlier this month. Parents and kids turned out to celebrate the holidays with arts and crafts, music from OSP students, and lots and lots (and lots!) of food. The party included music performances by OSP students, including a band from Calvary Christian Academy, which opened the evening. Families also heard carols from the Nannie Helen Burroughs School and a djembe drum performance by students from Kuumba Learning Center. And, one talented OSP freshman attending St. John’s College High School even played “The First Noel” on the violin. But some of the loudest cheers (other than when Santa Claus made an appearance) came when we announced the winners of the first annual Poster and Essay Contest for OSP students. The contest asked participants to submit an essay or poster in response to the following statement: “Why I love My School & the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.” With more than 20 prizes given out, the grand prize (a Visa gift card worth $500) was given to Justin Snead, a second grader at Naylor Road School. And while you can read more about one of the contest winners in this month’s student spotlight, prizes weren’t the only thing on the agenda. Families also got an aforementioned visit from Santa, who brought plenty of gifts including books, toys, and school supplies. The atmosphere this year was a far cry from last year’s OSP party, when the future of the program was in jeopardy and  new children were prohibited from enrolling. OSP families  had a lot to celebrate this year, however, after advocates and countless D.C. parents fought tirelessly to preserve and strengthen the  program. All that paid off, as in April, the program was expanded and reauthorized for five years. We can’t think of a  better Christmas present than that!

Choice Quotes

“In the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there should be no partisan posturing, nor shortage of courage in the New Jersey legislature on OSA. The children have no time to waste, and neither should any member of the Legislature.” – Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, writing on Dec. 5 inThe Times of Trenton.

“Education depends on the needs of the child. I don’t care what the delivery system — public, charter, private religious, homeschool — I just want what’s best for my babies.”  –Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice,speaking in late November at an orientation for legislators-elect at the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. 

“Only in education have we empowered strangers and geography rather than parents to make choices as to what is best for children. Essentially, parents and children are tied to the land — much like peasants under feudalism.” – Former California State Sen. Gloria Romero (D) and Peter H. Hanley, executive director of the American Center for School Choice, writing on Nov. 16 in RedefinED.

Stand Up (and Sing!) for Education Reform

Sounds a bit weird, right? Singing for education reform? But that’s the scene we were treated to earlier in December, when eight-time Grammy nominated gospel singer Marvin Sapp gave Georgia a performance that was twice as nice. Sapp, a strong school choice and education reform supporter, travelled to the Peach State this month to encourage the community to stand up and fight for Georgia’s children. At “Educating our Future: The Fight for Georgia’s Children,” Sapp told hundreds of supporters about the need for education reform, his plan to open the GREAT School—a charter school focused on the arts in Grand Rapids, Mich.—and how they can get involved in helping bring reform to their own communities. The informational forum included a discussion panel with Dr. Howard Fuller, co-founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the 2011 recipient of the John T. Walton Champions for School Choice Award. Fuller spoke of the importance of educational options for low-income families, as well as about how he doesn’t oppose public schools—simply systems that aren’t willing to reform. Also on the discussion panel was State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Cobb County), who stressed that while many public schools are providing students with a high-quality education,  children who are stuck in traditional public schools that aren’t working for them need educational options to give them the chance to succeed. Interested in learning more about the event, or want to learn how you can become more involved in Georgia? Visit www.educationisourfuture.com to become engaged!

Superstar Says Wins Begin in the Classroom

It’s not often that a Super Bowl-winning receiver has time during the season to help kids succeed, but Greg Jennings must have a knack for multi-tasking. That’s the only way to explain how the Green Bay Packers all-pro took time away from his team’s quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions to visit St. Marcus School in Milwaukee, which is home to many recipients of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Not just content to visit and share stories of success on the field, he donated $1,000 to the school (which resulted in an additional $1,800 in matching donations from other organizations) and, perhaps most importantly, emphasized the importance of a strong commitment to schoolwork, telling his own story of how academic success has gone hand-in-hand with gridiron wins. Two years ago, he returned to college to get the degree he didn’t earn the first time around. Said Jennings: “I don’t boast that I’m an NFL player, because that can be taken away from me today. But no one can take away my education.” Click below to watch more of his inspiring words.

Bidding Farewell to Two Greats

It’s been a sad couple of weeks, too, as on Dec. 7, we lost Joe Robert, the  longtime champion of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, at the too-young age of 59. Robert, who died after a long battle with brain cancer, devoted himself to helping improve the educational futures of thousands of low-income kids in D.C. through his time and extreme generosity, which  touched countless lives in the nation’s capital. We know we speak for many when we say he will be sorely missed, but we also know that his contributions will live on for many years to come. We also had to say goodbye to Ted Forstmann, who too died of a form of brain cancer, on Nov. 20 at the age of 71. We wrote about Forstmann’s great contributionsjust a week and a half before his untimely death, as well as how his Children’s Scholarship Fund—started over a decade ago with the late John Walton—has contributed nearly half a billion dollars to low-income children nationwide. Forstmann’s commitment to service and helping disadvantaged kids all across America was truly extraordinary. Our thoughts and prayers are with both the Robert and Forstmann families, and on behalf of thousands of children and families whose lives they so positively affected, we thank them for making parental choice such an important part of their philanthropic efforts.

Student Spotlight: Ronice McNeal

Our December Student Spotlight goes to a fourth grade student at the Kuumba Learning Center in Washington, D.C.  Ronice McNeal entered the Poster and Essay Contest for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and won first place (and a $250 Visa gift card) for writing about why she loves her school and what her scholarship means to her. Read Ronice’s essay for a glimpse of what school choice means to her:

I cherish my school Kuumba Learning Center. It’s not the same as any other school I have attended.  It’s so much better; I’m glad I’m in this school.  The teachers at my school are nice.  The teachers give us challenge work. We get more healthy food.  My new school has nice decorations in the rooms and colors everywhere. We go on field trips that help us to be better students.  At my old school, I have 20 or more students in my class.  I felt bad because I didn’t get the knowledge to learn.  It was too many students in my old class and the teacher didn’t have time to help everyone.  The teacher had to separate the class in groups of bad students and even chase students.  It seemed like nobody wanted to learn in my old class.  My old teacher even fell down the stairs chasing a student.

My favorite element of school is drum class.  The drum class is fun.  I learn how to play the Djembe drum from my drum teacher.  He is nice and he’s a professional of the Djembe drum.  He teaches us and we are getting good at it.  Every Friday, he comes to Kuumba Learning Center.  It’s fun for me because I never had a professional Djembe drummer come to my school.  I never even knew what a Djembe drum was!  Sometime he even brings other drums and he teaches us where the other drums come from.  We learn how to make various sounds.  Not only do we play the Djembe, we learn the history of the Djembe too.  I cherish learning about a lot of different things.  It’s a super school.  I enjoy learning about countries in Africa like Guinea, Senegal, and Mali.

My favorite subjects I love are reading and writing.  When you read, you learn.  It’s fun to read.  Other people cherish other things, but I cherish reading because when I get older, I want to be a good reader.  If I don’t read, I can’t be a teacher.  I plan to be a teacher and teachers are intelligent and get knowledge.  They are always ready to discover new things.  I love difficult words because, they help me to understand and with your speaking.  I enjoy writing because it helps you express yourself and how you feel.  When I learn, I know I can never stop learning.  I would be mad if I couldn’t get education because I know how important it is to me.

I feel so grateful to receive this scholarship.  I was surprised when I received the scholarship.  It was like I was dreaming or in a whole different world.  I was proud of myself because of what I’ve been through.  I think it was hard for me because I had to tolerate so much at my old school that kept me from getting the knowledge and education I need.  I just want to say thank you for giving me this chance to do better.  Now I feel like nobody can stop me from getting my education. I promise I will do my best.  My new school Kuumba Learning Centerteachers me that we all are scholars and I believe them.

For everyone at the Alliance for School Choice, have the merriest and happiest of Christmases, Hanukahs, Boxing Days and New Years! Thank you, as always, for readingBeing The Change, and we’ll see you in 2012.