So #educateme

Dr. John Sipple of the state Center for Rural Schools and a Cornell University professor was the keynote speaker at today’s Small City and Rural Schools Advocacy Day in Albany. He laid out, with charts and figures, the dire straits of the high-need districts across the state.

You can find a lot of those charts and much more here.

As good as his presentation was, Dr. Sipple was still upstaged by a wisp of a girl, a graduating senior from Madrid-Waddington High. Elizabeth Ruddy was one of more than a dozen students speaking at the Hart Theatre at the Egg.

Elizabeth Ruddy speaks. Photo by Tim Raab

She gave one heckuva speech at a “Save Our Schools” rally in northern New York this fall. Her rallying cry — “Educate Me” — became the hashtag for lobbying today.

A number of the more than 600 people in the audience chuckled when Ruddy admitted “I’m not an expert on the economy, and I’m terrible at math. So I won’t give you any facts or statistics to show how education in the North Country has suffered due to state budget cuts.” There were actually a few hoots from students who perhaps did not like that the keynote speech was a lot like a math class.

Speaking from the heart, “I only talk about what I know,” Ruddy said:

At Madrid-Waddington, our board is struggling, doing everything in its power to save as many jobs and programs as it can afford to spare. Rumors circulate the school as students speculate what sacrifices are going to have to be made in the near future, and how it’s going to affect each of us.

It leaves us to wonder, where is our support? We feel forgotten, insignificant. What are we good for? It seems as if our only purpose is to pass tests to make our state look good; the state that doesn’t seem to want to give us enough money for anything but the bare minimum we require to graduate. Our needs are equal to the needs of every other child in this state, so why does it feel like we’re being cheated?

We’re not politically important enough, I suppose. But tell me this: How are we supposed to change that if our lack of funding requires us to cut programs like speech and debate, which is one of the only ways that any student around here can learn about politics and the world we’re going to be running some day?

What about the young artist who can’t get into a good college because her school can’t afford the courses necessary for her to create a portfolio that does her talent justice? What about the aspiring musician who has exhausted all of the music electives in the school by his sophomore year and is forced to abandon his dream? What about the carpenters, engineers and architects of the future who will never know the talents they possess?

Our country is based on the principle of equal rights for all, so I don’t think it’s too much to ask for equality in educational funding. It isn’t fair that the size of my graduating class should have an impact on the opportunities available to me. It’s not right that we get left behind while kids in other schools grow up to be the politicians who decide how much money we get, sitting in their offices and wondering what the future will look like. Well, I can tell you.

It looks like me; like my sister; my best friend. It looks like that kid who feels like he’s not good at anything because he’s never had the chance to try anything that wasn’t included in the core curriculum. Every single child in this country is a building block of the future, and the only way we can be sure of making it strong is to take the time to invest in every brick we lay, no matter where it comes from.

I do not live in Canada. I live in Northern New York. I live in the United States of America. I exist. I matter. I am the future of this nation. So educate me.

Tags: , ,

5 Comments

  1. E. Thomas March 1, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Congratulations, Elizabeth, on delivering such a heart-felt, powerful speech yesterday in Albany. You brought tears to many eyes. Many are hoping to have a link posted with a video of your speech yesterday at the Rural and Small City Schools Advocacy Day. Well done!

    • Betsy Sandberg March 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      E. Thomas,
      Thanks for your kind words to Elizabeth. She did a great job.
      Excellent suggestion about posting a video. We’re working on that, as well as posting more pictures. Downloading our video is quite a time-consuming process anyway, but the snowstorm we are still in, while beautiful, is bogging things down and a number of staff could not make it to work because their children don’t have school. (Most schools and even some businesses are closed today.)
      If you check some of the links in “What kind of game show is this?” you will see some snippets of video.
      I am working on getting up a post of more of the student comments. NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue told me about 6:30 last night “Don’t worry about getting up what I said. Put up what the students said.”
      UPDATE MARCH 6: Due to the huge amounts of applause Elizabeth received, the audio on our video is not up to standards. The lighting in the theatre did not help matters either. So it does not appear we will post a video. Photos are up however.

  2. Liza Frenette March 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    As a woman who graduated from high school in the North Country, I joined hundreds of others in cheering loudly for Liz. She had a lot of powerful words and their power was in their truth. I remember when I went to journalism school and I was in photography 101. I was the only student in my entire class who had never used a 35 mm camera and did not have photography classes in high school. I was mortified. Rural schools have been getting kicked like cans for years. I thought the most important thing Liz said, however, was “It’s not right that we get left behind while kids in other schools grow up to be the politicians who decide how much money we get..” She brought the house down on that one, because students who were there were shown in graphs and charts the things they already knew in their hearts — wealthy districts are given much more.

  3. Bev Alves March 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Bravo Elizabeth!

    I am deeply moved by your speech. Not only does Elizabeth understand and stand up for the needs of individual students, she also understands that under the current funding system in NY State she and other students are being denied an equal educational opportunity.

    Nearly 40 years ago when I first moved from N.J to upstate NY, as a certified math teacher, I was unable to get a job. Finally, one superintendent told me, “These kids don’t need a teacher like you. They are country kids and will probably work on the farm or the mills.” I was aghast. Although many farms are no longer in existence and many mills have shut down, it’s very sad to see that this basic philosopy still prevails. Shame on those who feel this way and shame on NY State for allowing this to continue.

    Thank you Elizabeth, for your courage and wisdom.

  4. Helen Ruddy March 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Elizabeth ( your grandmother’s middle name)

    How proud she would be/ is and we all are of you!!!
    This kind of passion , purpose and courage are ‘bricks’ of titanium !!

    BRAVO

    Aunt Helen
    ( a passionate advocate ;-)

Post Comment