The struggle to improve our schools in Prince George's County and other embattled systems throughout the state has to happen at the grass roots -- parents, students, teachers who understand what excellence means for our children's future must build power in school and political systems to make it happen. Our newest Progressive Maryland organizer, Davain McClain, outlines what has brought him to the fight for education quality.
/By Davain McClain<>PM BlogSpace/ What’s up Progressive Maryland! I am Davain McClain (pronounced Da-vin) and I am new to organizing in Prince George’s County. I am proud to be a part of the progressive movement. I started as a volunteer during the midterm elections.
How did I get to the Progressive Maryland staff as an education organizer? I was born and raised in Orange, New Jersey, and am a product of public education. I have come to realize that education in Orange, and other urban cities in New Jersey, was subpar but I did not have a concept of disparities in government funded education upon graduating high school.
I joined the U.S. Navy, serving four years onboard the U.S.S. Bataan, which was deployed twice during operation Iraqi Freedom. When we were deployed the leading Chief Petty Officer of my division would encourage us to take free online college classes. I signed up for a Western civilization class, and I bombed the class because my writing skills and command of historical facts were subpar. While traveling back and forth to New Jersey on leave from time to time, I realized that my public education was below par compared that of to my family members who attended private schools, or public schools in affluent communities.
My younger cousins were using terminology, and discussing many historical figures that I had never heard of. This lit a fire in my ambition to achieve a higher education after my obligated military service. With the help of some family members and shipmates, I enrolled at Rutgers University majoring in Political Science with a focus in American Government and Public Policy.
When I relocated to Prince George’s in 2012, I was hired as an intern in the Capitol Hill office of U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland; interning in his office I spoke with constituents that had a myriad of concerns, especially the struggling education system in Baltimore City. I started to connect the dots and comprehended that many urban schools -- not just in Baltimore City and Orange, NJ -- were underfunded, and that most likely this is the case around the country. To make ends meet I became a substitute teacher at Malcolm X elementary school in Southeast D.C. I remember a particular third-grade student who was never in class, but just went to physical education no matter what time period it was throughout the day. None of the teachers forced this child back into class for reasons that to this day are unclear to me. It seemed as if as long as he was not causing problems he could do what he wanted.
This is what the educational system was like back home in New Jersey -- as long as you can pass the state test a student can do whatever they pleased. This is when I knew I wanted to help students achieve a better education that would teach them critical thinking skills, and not just teach them how to pass the bureaucratic test to earn a high school diploma.
I left the substitute teacher position to be an Education Legislative Correspondent for U.S. Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota in his Capitol Hill office. While working for Senator Johnson I found that many of his Native American constituents had concerns about not being prepared for college beyond their Reservation. On the Reservation they do not have a state curriculum demand, but have carte blanche on education requirements. Many residents were requesting more funding to bring in teachers that could prepare those who wanted to attend college or university. I learned that many of the high school students wanted to assimilate to life in America after being raised on the Reservation.
Coming from those experiences, I am a full time organizer for education equality with Progressive Maryland. I am working with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) in Prince George’s County. Through AROS, I am focused on building up a powerful coalition of teachers, students, parents, civic associations, and faith based groups to develop awareness and activism around the disparities in public education funding. If you are a resident of Prince George’s and you want to work with me to improve our public school system, you can reach me directly at [email protected] . I’d love to meet with you!
Coming up this month, you can help us get ready to win a strong education budget this season! AROS is hosting the very first Civic Academy, Saturday, April 27 from 10 AM to noon at CASA de Maryland, 8151 15th Avenue, Langley Park, MD. At the Civic Academy public meeting, Prince George’s County students, parents, teachers, and concerned residents can connect, share their concerns about our school system, and learn the history of how our county’s education funding disparities began and how we got to where we are today. Attendees will also have the opportunity to sign up to testify at the County Council Education Budget hearing. They will receive training on how to draft a statement to present their concerns in front of The Prince George’s County Council budget meeting on Tuesday, May 7, at the County Administration Building, 14741 Governor Oden Bowie Dr. Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
Education Equality, which is guaranteed by the Maryland State Constitution, is an ardent passion of mine; this is why I am excited to work on the Alliance to Reclaim Our School agenda.
Progressive Maryland organizer Davain McClain will report here frequently on the activities of AROS in Prince George’s and other school systems around the state as the Kirwan Commission recommendations are rolled out. Contact him at [email protected]