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Education reformers rocked the Statehouse in Indianapolis during a March 11 rally.
Music pounded. Students performed. Gov. Mike Pence and lawmakers revved up a crowd of more than 2,000 rally participants—mostly students—who chanted, “Ed reform rocks!”
Keynote speaker Jalen Rose, a former Indiana Pacers player, engaged an already pumped up crowd saying, “I know you guys have seen a lot of YouTube videos with the music that plays something called the ‘Harlem Shake,’ right? So for fun, because I like to make education fun … I want us to break out into something we’re gonna call the ‘Education Shake.’ ”
At the count of three, an ignited crowd instinctively whipped out cell phones to video him, Rose brought down the house doing the “Education Shake.”
Rose, who started a charter school in his hometown of Detroit, gave a “shout out” to parents, thanking them. He told students, “There are people in our country that don’t have people that love them. They don’t have people waking them up, taking them to school in the morning or patting them on the back and telling them that it’s gonna be OK.
“I had a great mom and a support group, and it means a lot to young men and young women today. So, thank you parents!”
Rose gave a “shout out” to teachers, calling them the “most important people,” and saying they had to be not only “educators” but “counselors and baby sitters.”
“I’m going to tell you a secret,” he told the students. “If you don’t succeed at school, it’s going to be very tough to succeed in life. … So it’s very important that you take advantage of the opportunity.
“Indiana is at the forefront of change in the educational paradigm. I’m here to take notes, to pay homage, and give you guys congratulations for all the great work you have done as legislators, parents, teachers [and] as students,” said Rose. “I want to take this back to the state of Michigan.
“It is unfortunate that in our society that the education you get is based on the zip code you live in,” he continued. “I ask you to do one thing. You may think you have only one voice, but collectively that voice is very huge. How do you get your voices heard? Don’t ask. … Demand quality schools!”
Gov. Mike Pence revved up the crowd saying, “Welcome to your statehouse. We are here to stand with these beautiful children, with these colleagues in the General Assembly, with all of you today.
“Education Reform does rock in Indiana,” he said. ‘We know we have made progress, but for the sake of the kids we are going to demand great schools in every community, serving every child in the state of Indiana.”
Senate President Pro Tem David C. Long, R-Ft. Wayne, told rally participants that “school choice creates competition” which “creates better schools.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, added, “This is more fun and energy in this building than I’ve seen for 30 years. In 2011, when we were successful in getting choice legislation passed, I don’t think any of us knew that we would have 9,400 folks make that decision this year to be in a school of their choice.”
Mike Obergfell, a social studies teacher at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, brought 17 students and two teachers to the rally.
“We came to show our support for education reform and how it has benefited our students,” he said. “We should stand and support good things like the expansion of educational opportunities,” especially for those with limited means.
“Parents have a duty and right to educate their children in schools they feel best meets their needs—that includes Catholic schools,” Obergfell added. “It’s pretty hard not to be energized when you’re surrounded by 2,000 kids! I think it sent a good message to our legislators.”
Bishop Dwenger High School has 39 students who received a choice scholarship, which is approximately 3.8 percent of the student body.
Mike Pepa, a teacher’s assistant at the Charter School of the Dunes in Gary, said he loved the “energy and enthusiasm” during the rally. He called the event a “great learning experience” for the group of students that he brought to the rally.
Gene Koch, a seventh-grade teacher at Lutheran South Unity School in Fort Wayne, brought a group of 45 students to the rally.
“I love this. It is such a positive feeling that kids and their parents have a choice in education,” he said. “It is nice to see that Indiana is really pushing for more reforms.”
Lindsey Brown, executive director of School Choice Indiana, which helped organize the event, said the goal of the rally was to “show lawmakers our appreciation for the reforms they have made, celebrate” all the successes, and also “an opportunity for the students to learn about the legislative process.”
Last month, the Indiana House passed a proposal to expand access to school choice vouchers. To become law, the Indiana Senate must also approve the bill. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the bill.
The Senate is expected to consider the proposal before the end of March.
(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. ) †