Monday, February 23, 2015

Dear Governor Cuomo
By:  Veronica Gaboury


While this might be too long of a letter to actually send, not sure he reads what he receives anyway, I think it is something that needs to be said. Or at least I need to say it.  

To Governor Cuomo,   


What can I say that others more eloquent and knowledgeable haven't already said?

My story.

I am the mother of 4 children. Chris is 27. He graduated from NY public schools and attended Bennington College in Vermont. He now works in Washington DC at a job he loves. Nick is 25, almost 26. He graduated from NY public schools. He attended the University of Rochester. Alexandra is 10 years-old, she is in 5th grade and she has gone to Miller Hill Elementary School her entire education career except that year in our local pre-school. Katharina is 8 and she has spent more time in educational programs than any of my other children had at this point in their lives. Her path has been different.

My first 3 children have always been full of curiosity, they loved to learn and had wonderful educators who helped bring them along to their next level of education. Many times that level was ahead of their peers and ahead of grade level, but these teachers were not concerned with keeping students "on the same page" or on "test prep," nor were they concerned with a formal formula curriculum, so these educators helped to feed my children's curiosity and allowed them to keep growing at their own paces, which further encouraged them to have curiosity and love of learning. It's a great natural cycle.

And these educators did it for all of their students. They met the students where they were and brought them as far they could. Not everyone reached the same end points...but they learned as much as they each were capable of. They had individualized instruction because everyone knows that everyone learns differently.

My last daughter, Katharina is a stroke survivor and she has had to be more involved with learning how to learn and formal education for some of the years my other children had free-play time. She has mild cerebral palsy, vision issues, cognitive delays and speech delays. But before you discount her as someone not worthy of a 'normal' education, let me tell you about her.

Katharina fought like hell to survive and be here. She survived a stroke before she was born. She has been blessed to have wonderful doctors at Albany Medical Center and now specialists throughout the Capital District. She had wonderful therapists and programs through the Rensselear County Early Intervention program and has amazing public school teachers in our home district of Averill Park.

My Kath has a burning curiosity and desire to learn. Just like her siblings. She has more empathy than many adults. She has the resiliency and the persistence that would outshine Olympic athletes. Her laugh is contagious, her hugs are healing and her eye contact is steady. She dances in ballet, tap and jazz with accommodating teachers who see potential and not disability. She rides a horse at hippotherapy. She loves museums and books and dolls. When she grows up she wants to work with Winter, the dolphin that the movie "Dolphin Tales" is based on.

Kath knows she had a stroke. She's beginning to understand that's the reason she can't always keep up with friends on the playground and in the classroom.

Kath is beginning to understand that for her, her life will always mean that she will need to work harder and smarter. She knows that learning her math facts means spending 5 times (or more) longer than the other kids. She knows she might not get through all of the stations in physical education class or have the time to complete an art project or finish reading the library book in the given week of borrow time. She knows she wants to play an instrument when she gets to 5th grade, besides the piano she already takes weekly lessons on with another wonderfully patient teacher. She knows when we sit to do homework each night it will probably take her two hours to do the work she missed during her different therapies as well as the 'normal' homework.

My community--Averill Park, Miller Hill Elementary School, Albany Medical Center, Rensselear County, Isabelle School of Dance, EBC Horse Therapy, Ms Mary, my friends and her siblings-- have surrounded Kath with so much love and support that Kath has succeeded in ways none of us imagined when she was first diagnosed as a massive stroke survivor.

However, what I fear now for my amazing daughter, as well as for my other daughter, my students and my husband's inner city students is a one-size-fits-all education model which does not work for the various abilities and strengths our real life children (the children behind the data) have.

We, as communities, have an obligation to raise our villages up. To lift one another to our highest branches. Our children each bloom at different times: some need more sun, some need more rain, some need more time, some need it all, but they bloom and they grow...given the respect for who they are and what they can do. And given the time they need.

The idea behind making sure that each student has an equal opportunity at a solid education is a noble one. The idea of testing and forcing each student to gallop through the curriculum regardless of how they learn is devastating to our children. Tying students' scores to the effectiveness of a teacher is insane. Teachers are not quality control agents inspecting each product and passing them along or rejecting them.

My beautiful, courageous, strong, smart, caring daughter struggles to take tests, especially timed tests. She shuts down and cries when we try to practice at home. Her confidence-level is fragile and this education reform of standardized one-size-fits-all education is chipping away at her and other students who teeter in your data margins.

The idea that next year she will be asked to have hours of test prep instead of furthering her love of learning, her curiosity, her math facts, her reading, her love of cultures is frightening. The fact that with her disability she will be permitted extra time for this insanity...time which will be taken from learning...means that my daughter will not have a chance to 'catch up'...she will not be able to ever ever catch up.

This education reform that you are pushing through, Governor Cuomo, goes against everything we have found to be research-based. This education reform will mean that only certain students wll be able to get a decent education, the rest will be forced into more 'academic intervention services' (missing more classroom/learning time) for prepping for tests that are developmentally unsound and unjust.

I never want my daughter, or other children who struggle to learn the 'normal' way and speed, to believe that they are 'not-good-enough' or that there isn't enough room at the school tables for them.

I beg you to reconsider your position and your push for Common Core, standardized testing and draconian teacher evaluations. Our children need us to be the village that can help them through their school years with support and research based methods for teaching and education.

Thank you for taking your time to read this,
Veronica Gaboury
Mom of 4
Public High School English Teacher

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