Nikki Rivera Wants You…
To stand up for education
Nikki Rivera wants you to become more informed, and definitely more involved in the process of educating our youth. If by chance you say to yourself, “Maybe I’ll do that when I retire.” Well, then Nikki want you to know: “Don’t wait. We need community members of all ages to participate in community civics.” And let’s say you tell yourself, “Oh, I just don’t have the time.” Then, here is what I will say to you: Rivera is a full-time educator, mother of five, beloved wife, and Manheim Township School Board president. And yes, because of her grace, patience, and professionalism she makes juggling all of those duties look easy. But, lucky us, she is happy to share some of her secrets on how to engage just a little, yet have a big positive impact with FLL readers.
When we meet at a local café, I find Nikki surround by binders of documents, all at her disposal in case she is asked a question she cannot answer (it should be noted that not once did she need to use those notebooks for our conversation). It is quickly obvious that she is an intelligent woman and a person who does her homework and shows up prepared.
Pleasantries behind us, I ask about her journey. Why get involved in another aspect of education — the school board — after so many hours each day spent in a classroom? She shares that, “Even before starting our family, we chose to buy a house in Manheim Township for the schools. Then by 2015, I had a child in each of the schools ― elementary, intermediate, middle, and high school.” At that time, she and her husband, Ramon, began to pay more attention to school issues. It was also a time when programs were being cut and budgets examined. She and her husband decided to make Thursdays their date night; they went to dinner, and then they attended school board meetings together. They sat in those board meetings, holding hands and listening. Pretty soon, Nikki decided to use the five minutes allotted to constituents to ask questions, and then shortly after, she began to, as she says, “offer additional information on education topics.” As an educator, she understood the inner working of schools and could provide a first-hand, in the field perspective. She also learned what districts face financially and legally, as well as the tugs and pulls of wants versus needs.
Together, she and her husband learned how public schools make decisions, the intricacies of property taxes, and how to influence decision-making. She began to call administration and school board members, and to engage in conversations that helped her and the members put the complex puzzle pieces together. Through special appointment, and then an election, Nikki became President of the Manheim Township School Board. Her excitement and pride for her district is palpable. She shares that, “We spend $8,500 a year per student of our instructional budget to educate our students and provide so many innovative, quality programs. No matter where students live in the district, we strive for equity, such as the one-to-one iPad early interventions for preschool children.”
Rivera seems most excited when she discusses providing students with the opportunity to take ownership of their own education and the well-being of their community, as well as a sense of power within their community, by teaching them to be engaged citizens. During a seasonal program, senior citizens in the area gather with students, who spend their time together helping with technology issues. The students also helped host a ‘senior prom’ at Brethren Village, a retirement center in Lititz. Then, there is her favorite: the nights on which high school government students visit the school board in order to fulfill a class requirement. It might begin as a chore for some students, but often ends with the class wanting to take selfies with board members, as high-fives are doled out when students are brave enough to stand and use their five constituent minutes at the microphone. Hopefully, these evenings instill a desire to attend additional school board meetings in the future. “No participation is too much. We want student and community members to feel welcome and to feel heard. We want a respectful exchange and sharing of concerns and ideas,” Nikki says.
Nikki explains that on her Facebook page (“Rivera for MT Schools”), she has shared coaching instructions on how to create change and how to be heard, and emphasizes that all constituents should know that their representatives are listening. She explains that it begins by just showing up to the meetings. Whatever trepidation you may feel entering a new space, know that she promises to give you a smile and make you feel welcome. As Nikki says, “We all have capacity.” And she’s going to make sure you know it.
In this partisan, polarized world we currently live in, where we may feel like we have no voice and no power, Nikki Rivera is using her deft and nuanced teaching skills, her leadership abilities, and her infinite amounts of grace and humanity to help all of us regain some footing. There is probably no other issue that can bring us all together like a desire for a quality education for all our children. No matter the school district, no matter if you have children in school or not—we all know and accept that our community is stronger and happier when our children are educated in such a way that allows them to discover their infinite potential. Infinite potential… and that potential begins with making a phone call to your school district’s office or visiting their website to find out when their school board meetings take place, and then committing to showing up for just one of those meetings. Then, listen and take it all in. After that first step, Nikki Rivera is hoping you’ll come back for more—with more questions, ideas, and passion for improving your community. We all do.
By: Marian Pontz