by Brian Washington
When Illinois educator Traci Dean looks around her classroom, she sees reminders of her childhood. That’s because Dean is teaching at John Mills Elementary School in Elmwood Park—the same school she attended as a child. In fact, she’s a third grade teacher in the same classroom where she attended third grade.
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“I really feel like I was provided with a great, quality public education, and I truly feel like I was prepared to be a successful teacher and a successful member of society,” said Dean, who believes growing up and attending school in Elmwood Park helps her serve her students better. “I actually worked as a para professional for a year at the school before I became a teacher because there were no job openings, but it was important for me to wait until an opportunity opened up here because my community is very near and dear to my heart.”
Dean, who just completed her first year of teaching, is spending time in Washington, D.C. learning about education policy. However, her students and community are never far from her thoughts—especially when it comes to the subject of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the K-12 law also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
The original intent of ESEA was to provide equal educational opportunities for all students—something that’s important to my community. Over 80 percent of my town is low income. So when you’re talking about Title 1 funds, and other funding for low income communities, you’re talking about my community. It’s really important to me that the funding part of ESEA gets straightened out so that there are equal educational opportunities for all students, especially in my community.
Legislation to re-write No Child Left Behind has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and lawmakers in both chambers have finished rewriting amendments for the bills. The House version to reauthorize No Child Left Behind could hit the floor in July. As lawmakers move forward with their bills, Dean is hoping educators across the nation will stand up for children and public education.
“As educators, I know we want to be heard and we have good intentions,” said Dean. “But I also know we are not as active as we should be. So when I go back to my school, there is going to be a huge call to action. We need to be setting up meetings with legislators—anyone who will listen to us—because we need to be respected and heard and the only way that is going to happen is if we reach out on our end.”
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