Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reflections of My 2011 Mom Congress Experience
                                                              April 21,2012
                                                                                                                                                               Being selected as a 2011 Mom Congress delegate for the state of Oklahoma was the highlight of 2011 for me.  Many circumstances and coincidences guided me to this end, but that is another story I will have to write at another time.  Words do not seem to do justice to express my feelings about this marvelous experience.  As long as I can remember, I have always advocated for something, from human rights, minority acceptance, immigration issues, to racial prejudice, education, cultural diversity and inclusion.  It has been as if I never have a choice.  I always knew that I could make a positive difference in the world and better the lives of my community neighbors. 
Minority groups and children have always been my passion.  I enjoy seeing their faces light up when they understand what they are reading or when parents feel accepted, included, and learn how to navigate our school system.  Empowering, teaching, loving and serving them are my mission in life.  I cannot express the happiness and joy I feel when I see a new mother learn English and read it to her child, or when she asks, questions and is eager to learn something new.
 My community, Broken Arrow, is a place where we strive for excellence, beauty and better schools.  I feel very lucky to live in such a wonderful place.  Our public school system is one of the best.  Yes, we have many needs, poverty, budget cuts and low teachers’ salaries compared to the rest of United States – but we still try to give the best of ourselves, and of what we can, to educate our children.  Our school families are learning to be active participants in our schools and we as leaders are trying to create programs that our minorities need.  We are on the path to make every one of our parents an agent of change
Mom Congress has validated my feelings that what we do for our children and our community is important.  As such, I am not alone in my quest to make this country better for our children.  I believe they deserve the best education money can buy.  They deserve high expectations and accountability from parents and teachers.  They deserve leaders who are committed to improve the education system and are not afraid to speak up.  All children deserve parents that are good role models and that value education.  They need us, the adults, to live actively the example that we want them to follow. 
We need to educate our families and volunteers to know more about school issues, legislation and the common standard curriculum.  They need to know more about teaching and supporting at home the principles taught in the schools.  Most importantly, they need to have open communication with their children’s teachers.  We as parents need to become “partners in education” with our children in all senses of the expression.  It was so refreshing to listen to our leaders in education supports our efforts and dreams for all of our states.  They encouraged us to rally parents around the country and to knock on the doors of our legislators and leaders at Capitol Hill.
My experience at Mom congress from the moment I arrived was one full of energy, enthusiasm and passion.  It was great to be in a room with 50 state delegates believing together that many things in education need to change.  Our welcome meeting on Sunday was a humble experience with welcoming remarks from Greg Schumann, the Vice-President and Group Publisher of the parenting group; Catherine McManus, Director Brand Communications and Partnerships;  Dr. Robert Manuel, PhD, Dean of Georgetown  University; and Alison Dempsey, Partnership and Social Media Editor.  I was fascinated with a power point presentation from Dr. Christopher Metzler where I learned that to be a better advocate you need to make a credible case and have data for your cause.  This covered issues and questions Such as how big is the problem.  How many people does it affect?  How severe a problem is it?  Who is most affected?  I really enjoyed the session Q&A with Dr. Marguerite Roza of the Bill Gates Foundation at our welcome reception dinner.  It was incredible to learn about the goals and the resources the foundation is providing in their commitment to help better our school systems.  Betsy Landers, President Elect of the National PTA, finished Sunday Night and reminded us of the power we have to help the children and to be their voices…  I felt like I was bombarded with tons and tons of knowledge and my brain was racing so fast to remember and soak up all of this information to take back to Broken Arrow and Oklahoma.  I was exhausted when I went to bed anticipating how Monday would be.
Monday was completely full of knowledge and enthusiasm.  I really enjoyed Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution video presentation.  He said that we were amazing and had this maternal instinct to take care of children.  He explained that school nutrition is breaking down systematically and that we need to fix it now.  We as parents need to be conscientious about what we feed our kids at home and at school.  This is truly on of our responsibility to our children.  Afterward, the panel discussion about nutrition was eye opening.  As I listened, Seth Nickinson and Margo Wootan talked about healthy cafeteria space; they spoke out for better lunches at school; chocolate milk having as much sugar as soda pop; etc.  This caused me to analyze my schools’ cafeterias.  I think we have the healthy part covered, we just need a better lunch selection that the kids will be eager to eat.  I loved the ideas of Miss Kelly Chapman Meyer, founder of the Teaching Garden.  I think it is time to reconnect the kids with the benefits of caring for fresh products and to teach them how to cook.  We need to teach nutritious cooking classes so parents can cook fresh meals and teach their kids to eat vegetables and fruits and healthy foods at home.  Then they will eat the same food items when served at school.  Mrs. “Q” with her Lunch Blogger made us so feel so blessed!  I have never had to eat such gross food!  Mrs. “Q” was a teacher who ate school cafeteria food for one whole year and blogged about it.  It was depressing!  The food they served in her school looked like the dinners you buy at the frozen section of you grocery store - just put it on the microwave and eat it...  That was considered nutritious.  Occasionally, I could endure it, but every day of the same kind of food.  My admiration to you, Mrs. “Q”, for your courage and endurance.
Next, I had so much fun with the panel talking about the importance of physical education and recess.  Robin Schepper, director of the Lets Move Initiative; Jill Vialet, president and founder of Playworks; and Helen Darling, WNBA athlete, were engaging and fun.  They talked about the need of bike racks, sidewalks, extra crossing guards, recess, PE, encouraging children to walk to school, etc.  The more the children get active, the better they perform academically.  The better they perform academically the better our country’s economics will be.  We need to be smart in how to make an amazing recess time.  We need to engage and speak with our principals - and play, ourselves.  Kids see us as role models.  We did some exercises during this panel and got some great ideas to share with and implement in our schools.  Mrs. Darling suggested that we find whatever works best in our communities and for us, as parents.  For example: let’s make literacy, math or science to be active sessions in class; let’s read stories and use exercise to reenact the narrative.  It all makes a big difference when parents are involved.  When your children see you do it, they will do it, too.  To keep the kids moving, allow the children do what they want to do and connect it to something they enjoy or love to do.
Rallying parents behind a cause was as good a presentation as all the rest of the workshops, presentations and the amazing networking we did with the visit to the capitol, interviews, and the royal treatment you will receive from everyone at Mom Congress.  They are just amazing!  Thank you, mom Congress!  I could go on and on for hours, but I wanted only to give you a little glimpse and taste of what you will enjoy this year.  Prepare yourselves to have the most amazing experiences with the most passionate leaders in education from around the country.  This year will be the best ever and we will be there to guide you and help you.  We are so excited for you and we can hardly wait to meet you all.
Felisa Hilbert
Oklahoma 2011, Mom Congress Delegate

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