So, if you work in education like me, or you a person who cares about the education of younger Americans, today was kind of a bummer. Did you know that if you teach school you actually have to earn a special certification that makes you Highly Qualified? It's true. You not only have to earn your teaching credential but you have to prove that you are a Highly Qualified teacher. If only that distinction were necessary at the highest level of the education department. But I don't want to talk about that. I am shifting my focus to beauty and miracles.
Right after school today, I had to go to the Napa County Office of Education to attend a board meeting. I know? You are thinking, "Wow, big fun!" Well, you are RIGHT. I went there with one of our sixth grade students, who is kind of amazing. She went to Washington, D.C. earlier this year to attend a leadership conference. She and her team studied women in power. They looked at ways to promote more women to positions of leadership, and why sometimes woman are overlooked.
She hung around the Smithsonian, visited historic sites, listened to the following speakers: Colin Powell, Malala Yousafazi, Spike Lee among others. (She told me that Spike Lee said "hell" in his speech and the organization gave him a frowny face -- I was relieved that this was ALL he said!). She and her team had to create a presentation discussing the problem and key ways to address it, and then they competed against other teams who had also created a presentation. "We didn't win. The other team had a stronger presentation, but we did okay. It was the first time I'd ever been somewhere like that."
She got to attend this prestigious Leadership Summit because people all over her hometown believed in her and invested. And now, a few weeks later, she stood before a roomful of grown-ups and tried to express her gratitude and what she had learned. She was poised and sweet, and everyone in the room could hear her voice, which is kind of impressive because a year ago, she usually spoke in a whisper. She was the quiet girl. Head tilted slightly down, and only adding her ideas if directly asked.
Now, she's been to Washington. Last year, when she was in the 5th grade, she was the memeber of a ten kid team that pushed our city to add lights and sidewalks near our school. "It's dangerous." She told the Mayor. "Lights will make things safer, but also will help build community because people will want to go out more." And a few weeks later, the city put in lights and a stretch of sidewalk. She was lit with joy, and now she's the real Girl on Fire.
Tonight she was asked, "How does it make you feel to have a voice?" I thought for sure I'd have to explain the question to her, but she responded with only a slight, thoughtful hesitation. "I feel good. I know that I can do things, and make things happen. And also, I can teach my family and my friends that they can get things done, too."
I was super proud, and had to make sure I didn't get too teary-eyed listening to her speak with confidence and clarity to a room full of strangers. One of them told her, "I am just so impressed, to be in the 6th grade and have all these people asking you questions, and you, well, you give me hope to see a young person with such great leadership skills."
It does give you hope. And of course, that room couldn't know, and couldn't see, is that she's a drop in a bucket. Every day 150+ students pass through my classroom, and they are ALL really amazing. They have TONS of potential. Plutarch said that "A mind is not a vessel to be filled, but rather a fire to be lit." It might sound strange, but I've got a room full of dry kindling just waiting for a flame to set them off. They will build, create, innovate, change, and restructure the world we live in. Some of us our fortunate enough to spend our days in the classroom with them - working endlessly to support them, and provide them with every skill they need so that they can step out into the world with powerful, world-changing confidence.
We will keep on doing this, regardless of whatever happens in the world of buracracy. We have an even higher calling; we answer to 6th grade girls who are struggling to find their voice.
Raise your voice, children. We are listening.