Springing into action after a Moms Meetup!
Last week, I went to a Moms Meetup on early learning with local MomRising members like myself, along with speaker Jeremiah Lowery of the Universal Child Care Now – D.C. Coalition to learn about early learning and child care in my community. A few days later, I found myself making the case for early learning to the DC City Council.
In my day job, I go to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress on poverty issues, and spend hours each month prepping volunteer advocates before they speak to their members of Congress about critical tax and nutrition policies when they are home. While I was (lucky enough to be!) on maternity leave, I started bringing my daughter to MomsRising events on Capitol Hill to help lift up the stories of fellow parents across the country – she and I became such regulars that she now has her own hashtag, #BabyLobbyist. But our early learning Moms Meetup helped me connect to local advocacy opportunities – and a few days later, I spoke about the importance of early learning to the DC City Council.
I was already planning to go to this public witness hearing to discuss a school funding issue, but after learning more about the need for universal child care here in DC, I made sure to emphasize the importance of early childhood development in my testimony. It was great to feel like I could speak out, and the conversation at the Moms Meetup helped me understand better what local opportunities exist to move early learning forward. You can watch DC Council hearings online (and specifically watch me testify at 3:24).
Here is a lightly edited version of my April 14, 2016 testimony to DC Council Education Committee:
My name is Meredith Dodson, and I am a parent of a DCPS 1st grader, and to-be-PreK3 student who is waitlisted at several neighborhood DC Public Schools...
First, let me tell you about my son. He is an amazing, bright, wonderful kid and I think he already is a great DC success story. After two years at a public charter school, he entered PreK4 DC Public School with an IEP [Individual Education Plan] and received high-quality support services, in particular focused on building social skills and engaging in the classroom. I can tell you that DC’s policy of investing in early childhood development has made an impact – the early interventions he received through two years at a public charter school and several years at a DC Public School have helped him build skills and achieve as a student. I am tremendously grateful for these investments, and as a long-time taxpayer I can see that intervening in the younger years is saving precious resources over the long-term.
… At his school, he has an amazing guidance counselor named Ms. Wendt. Betsy Wendt does a tremendous job of helping students build social skills and confidence, and ensuring there is a broad sense of community at Hearst Elementary. A lot of her work with students might not count as so-called “academic”, time but the research strongly demonstrates that social-emotional development is critical, especially for young children.
We are so lucky to live in DC, where there are public school options for children starting at PreK3. It is smart policy with a big ROI to include in support for social-emotional development during these early years. Because of proposed DCPS funding cuts, I am incredibly disappointed that Hearst may lose such a talented staff member. In preparing for this hearing, I asked my son what he likes about Ms. Wendt:
She protects harmless kids [when kids are bullying them]… she's a good teacher, she's nice to the kids that don't really know a lot of stuff and teaches them. She teaches kids how to be friends, and we are learning to cooperate and take turns.
As a taxpayer and a DC resident who wants my city to grow and prosper, I urge the Council to reject unfunded mandates within DCPS that are leading to this position being cut. And, as the mother of a special 7 year old, I beg you to intervene so that Hearst can continue to have Betsy Wendt as a core member of our school community.
I really enjoyed my first serious advocacy action focused on the local level, and I’m grateful that Nina Perez with MomsRising made sure we DC parents are able to connect with local advocacy opportunities. I’m looking forward to engaging more with fellow parents around early learning, and learning more at future Moms Meetups about other ways I can engage with fellow parent advocates to make a difference.