Last night, we hosted our first event of our campaign for the State College Area School District. I wanted to share my comments with you.
Before that, thank you to everyone who joined us to learn about me and what I hope to do for our schools. We heard from my former intern Claire Talley who's now teaching second grade in Brooklyn, my fellow Kiski teachers Chantel and Brian Kapustik, current school board member and constant ally Gretchen Brandt, and my inspirational partner in politics, State Rep. & U.S. Senate candidate, Malcolm Kenyatta (D-181). And the event wouldn't have happened without Hilary Caldwell who wrangled us all.
When I walked off the stage of my graduation from State High in 1994, the last thing I would have imagined myself doing as an adult would be running for our school board. But here we are, 27 years later, and I am so glad to be doing it.
Some of you know me from because of our work together at school, in local government, at Penn State, non-profit service, because of my run for House District 171, or because we are friends. All of you, I hope, are here tonight because you want to be discerning citizens, caring parents, grandparents, or neighbors, and because you want to decide whether or not I'm the right person to make decisions that make our school district and our community. Let's face it: there are 8 people running for 4 seats. Why me and what do I think we need to do?
Education is practically in my blood. My maternal grandfather was a farmer and an exacting math teacher. My paternal grandmother was a teacher who graduated from Stanford's teaching school. My father was an award-winning English professor and my mom was a college teacher and an award-winning adviser. Me? I've been teaching for twenty years and won teaching awards for excellence as well as conservation education.
Since 2009, I've worked teachers and educators at all parts of their careers. With future teachers like Claire. Working teachers like Chantel and Brian who burst with creativity and teachers at the ends of their careers like Ed, the welding teacher at CPI out in Pleasant Gap. And of course, I've worked with folks like Gretchen and other members of the Board on the things that matter today and for our kids' and our sustainable futures.
I think it matters that you know that I've prepared lesson plans and graded papers until 3:30 in the morning and had to get up to teach classes the next day. I know what it's like to worry about my students who are struggling with depression or loneliness, who've been abused, who's homes are falling apart. I've lost a student—a young woman looking to become a teacher—to the opioid crisis. And of course, I've had the incredible fortune of working with students and helping them find the best versions of themselves that they can be and celebrated their successes.
There are other things I’ve done that matter. Since 2015, I have served in local government on a Board of Supervisors and continue to serve our community to lead initiatives on climate action planning and solar power development. I’m on the Boards of three non-profits focused on conservation, education for sustainability, and great music here in central Pennsylvania.
Budgets, personnel, programs, and policies? I love it. Working with others to create consensus? Let’s go. Dealing with angry people and trying to find a path forward for our kids? Sign me up.
When I look at our schools, listen to our children and our families, I hear a call for a more equitable and sustainable future. Whether it’s working through COVID with an eye on those who need our help the most, on our school’s facilities and education in the age of accelerating climate change, the calls for justice for our students and families of color, or a world loaded with disinformation, our schools and our district have a role to play.
Most of us here have COVID fatigue and some of us have probably been sick or touched by the death of a family member or a friend. How many on this call have been at home—even now just half time for some—with your kids for the last year, trying to make sure they are learning? While some have thrived in this environment, too many are struggling. We know that depression and anxiety have been rising in recent years among young people. What about now when isolation has increased? For our special education kids, kids with IEPs, or who have been learning to read, how can we ensure that they are getting the education they will need to make up for lost time? For our students from poor homes or in abusive households where the risks have been elevated for the last year? Those with spotty internet access? English language learners? I want to make sure that as the money from the COVID bill President Biden signed goes to the right programs and is being used to support those who need it most.
Prior to COVID, our kids were striking for climate change. Inspired by young people like Greta Thunberg, they were calling on our generations to take action. As anyone who knows me will tell you, you can’t get me to not talk about climate change. And in fact, I already work on it with the district through projects connected to the recent school renovations—as Claire told you—and to cooperate on the exploration of solar power and on the possibilities for future facilities and how we can use onsite green renovations to teach our kids math, science, art, design, and more.
We have to have some frank discussions about race and justice here in central Pennsylvania. In the last year, we have obviously been dealing with a reckoning in the wake of George Floyd’s, Breonna Taylor’s, and Ahmaud Arbury’s murders. But prior to that, we had the Osazie killing here in central Pennsylvania. And prior to that and all along, we have had a culture in our community—including in our schools—where our Black and brown students feel less welcome, are more surveilled, and are unequally and disproportionately punished compared to their white counterparts. How many of my Black friends are tired? Now, I’m no white savior. But I’m committed to getting in the boat to row and making sure that I do everything I can—in staff programming, in our curriculum, and yes, examining our relationship to law enforcement—to be as inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist as I can be.
And lastly, we need to be working to support our democracy by teaching and modeling critical thinking and media literacy. In a letter, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following to Charles Yancy. “If a nation wants to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be.” He was right. Today, our nation suffers from a disease of disinformation and conspiratorial thinking. During COVID, it’s gotten worse, as we’ve been locked into bubbles on the internet. Our kids are citizens already and we owe it to them to give them the tools that will help them succeed as future voters and civic champions. Those skills—critical thinking, question asking, and media literacy—will also make them savvy employees and leaders in their future work lives.
But at the end of the day, I am doing this because I am a father. I want my son to be healthy, happy, find purpose, and to build great relationships so that he can be the best he can be on a thriving planet. I want the same for his friends and all of our kids, no matter where they were born, who they worship, the color of their skin, who they love, how able they are, or what gender they are. I want them all to live in an equitable and sustainable future.
I promise, I’m at the end now. I have three or three and a half asks. First, I hope that you will vote for me on May 18. I’m cross-filed, so whether you are an R or a D, you can vote for me. I’m also going to ask you to vote for Carline Crevecouer who is with us here tonight. I know she will be hosting something soon. Second, if you can volunteer or spread the word, please do [Visit BuckforPA.com]. And last of all, if you haven’t donated to my campaign, would you consider it so that I can reach more people?
Thank you so much.