To celebrate Women's History Month, we've been profiling some of the extraordinary women we're proud to support at EdNavigator. You might have already met Rose, who has been working toward her pharmacy degree for 30 years, and Princess, who went back to school while working full-time to show her toddler what's possible.
Today, meet Lisa. Whitney Henderson, Lisa’s Navigator, says: “When I first met Lisa, it was clear that she would stop at no end to be a fierce advocate for her daughter. Often when parents approach me about their educational concerns, they come to me for solutions, yet Lisa came to me with a proposal. She started with the goal: We need to get Livy back in school ASAP. As she described her plan, I was blown away by her extensive knowledge of school and district policies, her prowess navigating the local school board, and each sacrifice she made—including taking time off work and collecting tons of evidence to support her daughter—throughout the entire process. She also modeled for her daughter what it means to be an advocate. Not only did she fight for her daughter, but she pushed Olivia to fight for herself, too. It’s incredibly powerful.”
“My daughter Olivia was on a field trip to a Quiz Bowl tournament last year. It was an overnight trip, and she was all excited about it. But while she’s on this trip, I get a message from the principal. She told me that there had been an incident at school, and we'd have a conversation when she came back to school. She said it was nothing to worry about, so I didn’t think much of it.
It turned out Livy had pepper spray in her bag—because she walks home alone quite a bit. When she was in class before the field trip, she realized the pepper spray was in there and she didn’t think she should have it for the trip, so she brought it to the teacher. It didn’t seem like a big issue. But the principal had to make a report, and then the school board says pepper spray is a weapon, and all the sudden Livy is suspended until there’s a hearing.
I went in for the first hearing, and we were told Livy would not be allowed to return to school for 30 days, and would have to go to this alternative school for kids with disciplinary issues. She was devastated. If my daughter has broken a rule, then she should experience a consequence, but I want the process to be fair. This just seemed so unjust. She’s a straight A student. She’s never had any discipline issues before. She brought the pepper spray to the teacher’s attention. I think she thought that by being honest about the situation, it would be rectified. But it wasn’t, and it crushed her. The place that she felt the safest had let her down.
While she was at this alternative school, she kept telling me, ‘Mom, I'm bored to death,’ doing stuff she’d learned already. All I was thinking about was how far behind she was getting, by being in a school where she was not being taught anything new. This is not a solution. This is not the way we want to treat our kids. And it opened my eyes to a lot of working mothers, who probably feel just as helpless as I did in this situation.
After that first hearing, I remembered that I’d heard about EdNavigator at work. I never thought it was something that I could use, because I live in Mississippi. But I called up human resources and asked if this was an option for me. She said, ‘Actually, the lady's here today.’ It was Whitney. I laid out the plan for her, and she said, “I can help you with this.”
I'd been trying to contact lawyers. I'm strapped financially, but I was going to pay whatever I had to pay. Whitney shows up with me at the rest of the hearings, and it was like, I'm not here by myself.
In the end, we got Olivia out of the alternative school maybe a week early. We got them to change the language of the writeup, so it didn’t say ‘weapon,’ because I was really concerned about the word weapon being attached to her transcript. And Livy didn’t want people to see that offense first, and not see who she was as a person. But the main thing I wanted to impart to Olivia was that I'm in your corner, always. And I wanted her to know that she can speak up for herself, too. We will fight this ‘til the end, together. And we did.
Olivia got over this hump. She’s very tenacious. She’s 15 now. She's much more self-assured. She put her heart and soul into volleyball. She's in junior ROTC with the Air Force. She's knows what she needs to do to make things happen. She’s so far past me in education, it's embarrassing. I just sit back and watch her, and go, yay, you go. You're doing it. You're doing it.”