Reflections from Parenting magazine’s Mom Congress
Back in February a friend, formerly of Cooper-Young and currently of Pasadena, CA, forwarded an email telling me about a competition a magazine was holding to send moms involved in education to Washington, DC. Susan’s e-mail said, “Mandy, this is totally last minute, but I saw this and immediately thought of you. You’d be perfect! But you have to apply today.” What would I be perfect for? Apparently my dear friend thought I should join moms from across the country that are involved in educational advocacy and be part of Parenting magazine’s Mom Congress.
I really appreciated my friend for thinking I could do this. But I read the instructions and sighed at the required 300 word essay. I’d worked all day, and I had two kids to feed and do homework with. I just didn’t have time to write an essay. Later that night my husband was gone, and I was fiddling around on Facebook at 10pm and remembered that e-mail from Susan. Before shutting down the computer, I wrote out three short paragraphs describing my amazing journey as a community and parent advocate at Peabody Elementary over the last several years. I hit send, and along with it said a short prayer. “God, if this is supposed to be part of my journey, make it happen.” Then I went to bed and didn’t think much of it again.
Three weeks later, as I was with my family at the zoo, my phone buzzed telling me I’d received an email. I had been chosen to be the Tennessee delegate at Mom Congress in April, which included a 4 day, all-expenses paid trip to Washington, DC. I was stunned. Then I opened the attachment with the itinerary. In the world of education, the names of the speakers were the All-Stars: Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Jamie Oliver, The Gates Foundation, and so many more. Each forum would be a panel discussion with Q&A time on topics like school nutrition, bullying prevention, early childhood education, early literacy, rallying parents, and finding funding. I’ve been to conferences before, but this would be different.
It is hard to put into words what I experienced during my week at Georgetown University. Each experience was priceless. The 51 moms I met all shared amazing, unique journeys of advocacy. I felt anger when I heard from the Idaho delegate that her schools can only afford to run 4 days a week and have cut all arts programs. I felt compassion when I heard the Iowa delegate’s sold out passion for the foster care children in her city. I felt nausea when I saw pictures from the anonymous Mrs. Q, who ate a school lunch every day for a year and blogged to tell about it. I felt delight eating a Jamie Oliver-cooked school lunch! I felt giddy when a Kennedy walked in the room (Mark Kennedy Shriver of Save the Children). I felt the burden and intensity of educational leaders who are trying to change the systems. I felt inspired as we dreamed of what could be! I felt humbled as I toured the Capital Building and sat on the House floor where our nation’s leaders have been passing laws for 150 years. I felt empowered as I walked across the street to the Longworth House Office Building to meet with my own Congressman, Steve Cohen, asking him to vote for the Family Engagement in Education Act that was to be presented to Congress that week. I felt validated as Mr. Cohen listened to my story and concerns and offered his encouragement and support. The emotional list goes on and on.
I am still overwhelmed and inspired. I wish our entire community could have experienced Mom Congress with me. My advocacy story is not just mine; it belongs to all of us. We are part of a neighborhood renaissance in our little corner of the world, and our neighborhood school is benefiting from partnerships within our community. As I teach full-time at two other schools in our city, I know that our advocacy efforts cannot stop at one school. After experiencing Mom Congress I am more fueled than ever to challenge parents, neighbors, and businesses to partner with schools to see education reform happen in our nation. In a day when teachers are told to teach longer and work harder, we must be their cheerleaders and encouragers. It is a difficult time to be a teacher, and they must know that we appreciate them. And most importantly, we must be advocating for children at every level on every issue. As I heard from our nation’s top educational leaders over and over again, “Moms and dads need to be running the show.” We need to be the loudest voices representing our most precious citizens. They are our future.