Could you tell me about how you got involved in the education space?
The first way is personal and the second way is professional. Many years ago my family was living in Detroit, Michigan and the time came for me to enroll in kindergarten. My parents realized they weren’t sure that the neighborhood school was right for me. My mother had taught school and sort of had a sense for these things. They applied for a lottery spot in a magnet school in Detroit that was Montessori themed. My dad had to camp out all night in a lawn chair to stay in the line for the lottery. I got drawn. So, I started out in a school that was not my assigned district school. We were there for five years.
I was experiencing school choice, though we didn’t even call it school choice at that point. My parents just made choices for their kids and they were fortunate to be able to do that. As we got older it was obvious that the whole region of Detroit was struggling. My parents made the decision to move out of Detroit to the suburbs. Thankfully, my parents had the resources to do that. We then went back into traditional district schools, both my brother and I, and graduated from those.
On the professional side, I actually taught high school for a year, my first year out of college, in the public traditional district. I was laid off after they laid off all the first and second year teachers because no one had tenure. So, I came back home and started doing some nonprofit work. The work I ended up doing was for a small nonprofit in Michigan that ended up helping to pass the first charter school bill in Michigan, it was called Teach Michigan.
“Parental choice is something that every parent should have no matter where they live, no matter what their income is”
Then, about 11 years ago, I came to work for the American Federation for Children and thought it was a perfect fit for a lot of reasons. Because so much of my background had been in nonprofit work and advocacy, it was an easy transition. By then I was a parent myself and realized that this is a nationwide situation. This is my neighbors and my cousins in Florida. Parental choice is something that every parent should have no matter where they live, no matter what their income is.
I work now on the AFC development team, fundraising to help pay for all of AFC’s work. In a way I sort of feel like I’m able to contribute to everything that we do. I also help put together AFC’s National Policy Summit. That’s really great because I love the exchange of ideas and I love connecting people.
Is there an individual story that stands out to you?
As far as an individual student story, one in particular stands out. A young woman named Nydia spoke at a conference in Orlando. She was still in high school and she told the story of how her mother immigrated to the United States to give her a better life. She told us about all the sacrifices that her mother had made and talked about how her life was changed because she was able to receive a ESA in Arizona. It just changed her life. The sacrifice that her mother made is the sacrifice that parents make every day all over this country. That story really stuck with me.
(Nydia is a Voice for Choice and a Future Leaders Fellow with the American Federation for Children. To read more about her story visit out Future Leaders Fellowship page)
Is there anything else you’d like to tell people?
I would say that this year has been excruciatingly hard on so many levels. A lot the reasons have to do with school and education and how we educate children. With COVID, it’s just sort of blown open again, the inequities that families face as far as kids that do better learning in person. I hope that one of the positive things we can take away from this year is that there’ll be some really substantive change in education and in education choice and allow families to finally once and for all, despite their income, choose the best way for their children to learn.