New school year inspires renewed advocacy
Each year I have the good fortune of walking across the street on the first day of school to help launch my five neighbor children as they start a new school year. The ritual includes me standing with the kids for the first-day-of-school portrait.
It started 12 years ago when the oldest children, twins Adele and Patrick, started kindergarten. With three younger siblings, including another set of twins, it was a challenge for the family to get these new students to school. I became their walking buddy. For the next eight years, accompanying these five youngsters to elementary school was part of my morning routine.
My young friends no longer need my help getting to school, but I still get to be in their first-day photo. I love this ritual and the chance to let these students know I care about them and their education. This special moment is also a powerful motivator to continue to advocate for public education.
This year, their mom posted a photo of me with the big kids as kindergarteners and another one with them as Heights High juniors. In the first photo I towered over them, and now they tower over me. The photos measure the passage of time and how much has changed as these two young people have grown up. It goes fast!
In addition to getting kids out of the house and back on a structured routine, the first day of school marks a new beginning: new opportunities and challenges, the excitement of self-discovery and discovering the unknown, growing as a thinker and problem-solver, uncovering new information and being inspired to search for more, becoming a writer and reader and able researcher, making new friends and working with others, and learning to navigate adults and the daily routine of a school environment.
Education is about human development. It’s priceless. It’s profound. It’s worthy of ritual.
The back-to-school launch reminds me that our system of public schools is essential, egalitarian and worthy of investment and attention. I am grateful to live in a democracy where we guarantee all children access to a free public education, because each individual is valuable, and because we all benefit from having educated and thoughtful citizens. Public schools bind us together. In a world of competition and conflict, they express the common good.
The kids are back at work, and now it’s time for us to resume our advocacy. Public education is under attack. The new state budget shows that providing for a thorough and efficient system of high-quality public schools that advances the common good has taken a back seat to individual rights and private education. Our community is hit hard by these anti-public priorities.
I am grateful to live in Cleveland Heights, where our community invests in our children and values our public schools. I am grateful that we have a coalition of community members, educators and elected officials who fight for this essential cornerstone of our democracy. The Heights Coalition for Public Education persists as an organized voice for state policies that support public education. Citizen leadership is essential if we want the state legislature to fulfill its obligation to provide for a thorough and efficient system of high-quality public schools.
Each day our children must function within the reality shaped in large part by state policy. For that policy to achieve our goals for children, we must demand that policymakers make the success of our public school systems their education priority.
We have a lot of work to do.
Susie Kaeser is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She is active in the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.