HACKENSACK, N.J. — City schoolteacher Okaikor Price says she determined to bring democracy back into public schools as chairperson of New Hackensack Education Association PRIDE in Education campaign.
Standing up for her Hackensack Middle School students, their families and her fellow teachers, Price helped bring PRIDE to the city in October 2014, succeeding where those before her failed.
PRIDE holds documentary screenings, sample testing events and other educational workshops designed to give the community the tools they need to feel empowered by education.
Hackensack’s PRIDE’s campaign is the only one in the state with parents on its committee.
"Public education is one of the foundations of our democracy," said Price, a language arts teacher who kicked off the 2015-16 school year with a book bag giveaway and seminar during which than 350 backpacks were distributed. "However, public schools are probably one of the most undemocratic places to be.
"Students don't have a voice, teachers don't have a voice and students don't feel like they have any agency in what they're learning."
Price says PARCC testing is forcing students to learn about topics that don't interest them. Those topics might not even help them in the long run, she said.
"If you ask all the adults to leave a room and talk to the kids, they'll tell you they're being forced to learn and that's why they're in school," said Price, a Rutgers University doctoral student in Design of Learning Environments.
"My specialty is looking at what we can do to make it 'small-d' democratic, where students have some agency in how they learn, how they’re assessed and how we should be creating students for a better society -- not just for college," she said.
In the end, Price said, she wants to show the community that it has the power to control what's happening in its schools.
"We’re a country of free people driven by the people," she said. "We're going to put 'we the people' back into our public schools."
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