By New York Educator Voice Fellow Darlene Cameron
Jumping into the deep pool of social justice as it relates to educational policy, I had no idea what America Achieves' New York Educator Voice Fellowship was before I got an email with a link to the website and application.
After being accepted, I was so apprehensive about spending three days at the summer training Institute Albany during the precious summer that I requested a one-on-one call with the program director to make sure this was going to be a worthwhile venture.
Looking back, I’m embarrassed I was so hesitant. As we arrived in Albany and began networking with educators from all over the state, I realized how much I didn’t know about education outside of New York City and across the state. Every region has its own issues, concerns and unique culture, which I loved learning about. This was also a great time to talk about my unique experience as an elementary school Principal in New York City.
Our time in Albany included learning about New York's government, its impact on our educational system and how educators can become part of the conversation that’s taking place around ESSA, the Common Core Standards, and most importantly teaching politicians and policymakers about education, which is our expertise.
"It is our responsibility to make sure our voices are heard and we are empowered to affect change in educational policy and legislation that impacts our schools and districts."
Besides meeting the Chief of Staff of the Governor, state legislators, and educational lobbyists, we learned great interpersonal skills to strengthen our ability to advocate intelligently and effectively using resources like media branding, Twitter, and writing blogs and op-eds about the passions that drive educators dedicated to social justice.
I’m confident as an educator, but I’ve never had the desire to write a blog in my life, and pushing myself to “jump into the deep end of the pool” and get out of my comfort zone is just one of the indelible marks left by the summer convening of New York Educator Voice Fellows. It is this jolt of confidence that leads me to write this blog today.
With the opportunity to meet so many diverse educators, I was reminded that this is one of the most crucial times in education. It is our responsibility to make sure our voices are heard and we are empowered to affect change in educational policy and legislation that impacts our schools and districts.
Being an educator is a lonely job. We spend a lot of time alone, working late, and feeling overwhelmed. Our work is never done. It can be all consuming. As an elementary school principal approaching my tenth year, I’ve realized how isolated educators can become. But as some of us isolate ourselves, others are branching outside of their schools and neighborhoods with the purpose of becoming a voice in education’s political sphere.
"I want to have an active role in the policies and laws impacting our children’s civil rights and the future of our society."
I’m inspired by my experience at the summer convening because it’s forcing me to get out and make sure my voice is heard and take advantage of all of the opportunities available to advocate for teachers, students and families. We can bring the educator’s perspective into the political landscape. I want to have an active role in the policies and laws impacting our children’s civil rights and the future of our society.
Darlene Cameron was appointed Principal of S.T.A.R. Academy in 2007. She believes being an educator means acting as an advocate for social justice. S.T.A.R. stands for Students Taking Active Roles. S.T.A.R. Academy is a small school; all classes have less than 30 students or more than one adult, ensuring teachers differentiate instruction to meet students’ needs. The school vision is that students become active lifelong learners in their communities. She served as a special education teacher in the Bronx and has had a passion for working with children since she was a teenager. She is a graduate of Vassar College, and earned a Masters in Sociology of Religion from University of Chicago, a Master's in Special Education from Mercy College, and a Master's in School District Leadership from Baruch. Darlene is a New York Educator Voice Fellow with America Achieves.
Photos by TX Fellow Loryn Windwehen