U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez and U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. hosted a roundtable discussion at Montclair State on Oct. 6, but sophomore Alondra Martinez grabbed the room’s attention. Martinez launched into her question— in complete Spanish—and directed it at Menendez.
“I was really nervous,” Martinez said. “I knew that I wanted to ask something because the topic really interested me, but I was like ‘OK. Just do it. He’s a normal person just like I’m a normal person.’”
Martinez’s question centered around how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will affect Hispanic students. Several Montclair State students were in attendance as Booker, Menendez and King Jr. fielded questions regarding the implementation of ESSA.
Martinez was interviewed by a couple of news outlets after the event ended.
“I was like, ‘Oh wow. What did I get myself into?’” Martinez said. “But I don’t see it as I’m being interviewed. I see it as a student is being interviewed, a student’s voice is being heard. That’s the most important.”
ESSA was signed into law in 2015 and replaced the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The bill keeps standardized testing, but transfers school accountability to the states. Now, nearly a year into its implementation, federal education officials are going across the country to see ESSA’s effects, according to NorthJersey.com.
Latin American Student Organization (LASO) adviser Nelson Rodriguez explained that he was notified of the event and wanted to bring students to see it first hand. Three of LASO’s executive board members were at the event, including junior finance major Alexander Alvarez.
“Well first off, I felt incredibly underdressed,” Alvarez said. “But, I felt really privileged and honored to be able to speak there on behalf of some students. I have a lot of close personal friends from Paterson, Newark and Passaic that have to deal with all of these issues that not all students from other areas have to deal with on a daily basis.”
“It robs them from being able to pursue an education at the same extent and level that some of these other students are able to. By being able to speak as students, we’re able to give a first-hand glimpse at what it’s like to have to balance family life and being a student.”
A Stanford study concluded that the achievement gap between children in high-and-low income families has widened over the past 50 years. ESSA doesn’t do much to narrow the achievement gap between low-income students and students from wealthier families, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Sens. Booker and Menendez highlighted the importance of the bill and stated their commitment to delivering high-quality education, according to a press release.
Meanwhile, Martinez and Alvarez had the opportunity to bring their experiences and issues to politicians with national clout and importance.
“It was an honor,” Martinez said. “I even snapchatted about it and was like ‘feeling honored right now, this is so cool.’”