Not unlike most of you who are reading this, I have a bucket list of career goals and life experiences I hope to someday realize. Before last Tuesday, nowhere on that list could you find aspirations of stopping traffic on a major highway.
And then a dump truck rolled down I-75 with its lift bed open, ensnaring the fiber wires three of our schools rely on for digital connectivity. North Sashabaw Elementary School, Pine Knob Elementary School, and Sashabaw Middle School instantly lost phone and internet service, and getting these buildings back online became my focus for the next 24 hours.
My team and I would just have to halt traffic in both directions on I-75 to do it.
“No problem,” MDOT assured us, “we will have you back up and running on Sunday.”
They indicated this was the soonest they could close the road to allow for the repairs to be made. No problem?
Big problem. See, our schools need access to digital communications for records, instruction, and more. While each school is equipped with a few analog phone lines for emergency calls in and out, and our teachers are experts at enacting a creative “Plan B” as situations demand, this is no way to conduct a school day… let alone three days!
MDOT wasn’t trying to put us off or inconvenience us on purpose. They just didn’t understand how important restoring connectivity was to us. They didn’t know how this one simple cable affected our day-to-day operations, how it affected our teachers, and our students.
With a few more phone calls and conversations “up the chain,” they understood, and they worked with us to get the road shut down not on Sunday, but on Wednesday morning. The repairs were made and connectivity was restored by noon that day.
The reason I am sharing the play-by-play with you is because I want to show you how easy it is to advocate for the people and institutions you care deeply about. As the dump truck drama was unfolding on Tuesday, I was also buzzing in and out of some great discussions that were happening at our Clarkston Champions kick-off events. If you’re not familiar with Clarkston Champions, it is a group of engaged community members who wish to speak up for our kids and our schools through legislative advocacy.
I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between my phone calls on Tuesday, and community advocacy in legislative decision-making process.
Clarkston Champions steering committee member, and CCS Board of Education Vice President Kelli Horst said there are three things to think about when contacting legislators and lawmakers:
1. Tell them the issue you’re contacting them about, and what you want them to do.
2. Tell them the effect this issue would have on you (or in our case, our students, our staff, or our schools).
3. Share a personal story about yourself or someone you know who is affected by this issue.
It’s that easy. Without realizing it, that’s also the approach that helped us solve our problem on Tuesday.
Advocacy for our kids and our schools comes in many forms. A phone call can go a long way. A conversation can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to change. You may wake up in the morning thinking you’re incapable of stopping traffic (literally or figuratively), but by the sheer power of desire, determination, and communication … you do.
For more information about the Clarkston Champions, please visit www.clarkston.k12.mi.us/champs.
Shawn Ryan is Interim Superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools