Defending Democracy, Education

Homegrown commitment to education equity: Why I’m an #NCEdVoter

We continue our Why I’m an #NCEdVoter series today with the help of Leslie Small. Small, who dreams of becoming a teacher one day, shared with us that you don’t need to come from a big community to have a big impact on the future. You just have to care. And to vote. Enjoy Small’s op-ed below:

Think about your hometown. Think about all the memories and the people who helped to shape you into who you are today. Think about your high school. Did you have a favorite teacher? Did you play a varsity sport? Or were you a theater or band kid? Growing up in a small town in Northeastern North Carolina and graduating with a class of 130, I know first-hand how important it is that our public education systems flourish, as they serve as a hub of growth and development for children and young adults from all walks of life.

My high school, Gates County Senior High, was extremely small. It served the entirety of Gates County, which to put into perspective for you, has about 10,000 residents and only has a single stoplight to serve one of the only intersections in the entire county. My years in school went extremely well. I was heavily involved in a little bit of everything. I was president of our Future Farmers of America chapter, was in theater and also enjoyed playing and watching our sports teams. I had such a great high school experience, but it wasn’t without its ups and downs. Our school system was poor. In fact, our county’s middle school was in such poor shape that it had to be condemned because of its contamination with black mold. The fact of the matter is, our county doesn’t have the funds to construct and maintain an adequate structure for education, let alone support extra-curricular activities that help student’s to grow and shape themselves into cultured individuals. None the less, I cannot say anything bad about the infrastructure of my alma mater. The teachers, the support systems I developed, and the overall quality of the work that they put in to educate us was above the norm. Countless unpaid hours of extra work that teachers and administrators put in just to ensure that their students were getting a quality experience, not to mention the ridiculous amount of money that came out of their own pockets to ensure that we were in a comfortable classroom or had the right supplies to accomplish a task or put on a production. There is no doubt that all of my teachers cared about us and made sacrifices to give us what we needed. With the salary they are currently being paid ranking extremely low compared to national averages, this just should not be the case.

In a community like Gates County where it is common for families to live on government assistance and on the verge of poverty, it is improbable to ensure that all students are able to equally support themselves and that families provide adequate opportunities for their kids. There were many times that students were unable to pay for field trips or shop project materials and would have to sit out on the opportunity unless someone, being a teacher or administrator, would step up and pay the difference. Frankly, I’ve seen bright children suffer and struggle because they are unable to have an equal experience compared to students like me, whose parents are financially stable. It is critical that we acknowledge the amount of money that comes directly out of teacher’s paychecks to ensure that their students have equal opportunities. This amount of money does not include the supplies, extra books and snacks that teachers are also expected to purchase. With teaches having an already lower than average salary they do not have the disposable income to pour into their classrooms.

In my senior year of high school, I decided to continue my education at North Carolina State University at their College of Education. I have plans of returning back to my hometown and teach at some point because it is so important that students can see others from their hometown being successful and trying to better themselves, especially when it is someone that grew up in the same situation as them.

Leslie Small is studying Communication – Public Relations with an English minor at NC State University.

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