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.
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.
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.