I was honored to have my son represent us at this event while I was at #NPEOAK17.
Hello. My name is Angelo Svigelj-Smith, and I am here today representing my mother, Melissa Marini Svigelj-Smith, who is in her 20th year as a high school teacher in Cleveland Public high schools. Currently, she is teaching at our county’s juvenile detention center. She is also a community activist and advocate. It is her students’ voices that will be heard today from recordings made at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center. Before those statements are read, my mom had a few things to share about poverty and education in Cleveland.
From my mother, Melissa:
As a long time advocate for social justice, I became dismayed and disillusioned a few years ago as I was told by those in higher administrative positions to do things that I did not feel were beneficial for my students and were sometimes even harmful; all so that students could pass high stakes standardized tests.
And so that later those tests could be used to call students, schools, or teachers “failing.” Then, those with a profit motive could come in and get a slice of the $800-900 billion dollar education spending pie.
Instead of quitting the teaching profession entirely four years ago, I decided to take a position at our county juvenile detention center, and to fight the system from within. In my new position I have been privy to and witness to an egregious exploitation of our city’s children all in the name of education privatization and profits.
Each week I document the educational atrocities committed against our children because of a culture of profit and competition. Treatment and conditions my students must experience, policy makers and others with privilege would never accept for their own children but because the great majority of my students are from low-income households and black and brown they are subject to these episodes of educational malpractice.
My students have had art, music, physical education, library time, foreign languages, and vocational classes taken from them. They are often in buildings with extreme heat or extreme cold. They walk to school, or stand at RTA bus stops in neighborhoods filled with violence, crime and abandoned houses because of decades of racist policies and practices.
They have the latest education fads or trends tried out in their classrooms, even though there is no research to support these latest trends but someone is always making a profit off of them. They are more likely to have temporary teachers instead of career professionals. Their neighborhood’s public schools are too often demolished or sold to private real estate holders so that they can be used for profit-making charter schools.
I have students who were enrolled in ECOT, Regent, Bridgescape, and Lake Erie International (just to name a few) who arrive to me without making any progress towards graduation after months and years at these charter schools. Yet, those charter schools have been paid with state tax dollars just because my students’ names were on their rosters and no one is holding the charter schools accountable.
I have students who have never been in trouble before, but after one fight or encounter which was triggered by a traumatic event in their life due to the poverty and violence this city allows to surround them, they are expelled from school and given no other treatment or consideration for their true issues or the sources of their pain.
In the most extreme and sorrowful cases, I have attended wakes and vigils for my students and I’ve visited students in prisons across the state who are sometimes the cause of those wakes and vigils. It is a sick and vicious cycle that we would do everything in our power to stop if these kids had different zip codes, or if they were visitors at a republican convention, or associated with a local sports franchise.
For these reasons, I am part of the #WeChoose campaign. “It is a declaration from hundreds of thousands of parents and students in cities across the United States with a clear, yet profound message – we refute and resist corporate education policies that are inflicted upon our children without our voice.
The failure of previous administrations to respect the lives of all has set the tone for this perilous moment that we are in now.
We reject appointed school boards. We reject zero tolerance policies that criminalize our children. We reject mediocre corporate education interventions that are only accepted because of the race and socio-economic status of the children served.
We choose equity.”
I hope that you will consider joining us. You can find more information at https://www.j4jalliance.com/wechoose/ – the Journey for Justice website.
If you would like to read more about my work as an educator and advocate please read some of my blogs on msvigeljsmith.blog.
Thank you for this opportunity to have a voice for educators and students confronting the impact of poverty every day in their classrooms across America.