A voice for the voiceless: Middle school teacher among finalists for ‘Social Justice Activist of the Year’ award

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Robt Seda-Schreiber and his  wife

By Mike Morsch, Regional Editor
He wanted to be that voice for the voiceless, that friend to the friendless., And it was the strong pull of the community that offered him the opportunity to be both., Robt Seda-Schreiber was living all the way across the county in California, making what he calls “mad money” and living just off the beach where it was 70 degrees and sunny every day of the year., It was pretty close to perfect., And then he got a call that there was a job opening at Melvin H. Kreps Middle School in Hightstown. Seda-Schreiber had graduated from the middle school in 1983 and then from Hightstown High School in 1987., “I didn’t hesitate for second,” he said. “I traded all of that in a heartbeat because I believe in community.”, It’s what he’s done since he returned to Hightstown that hasn’t gone unnoticed., In 1993, his first year of teaching, he started the Kreps Middle School mural program, which showcases student artwork that has social and political themes; he has written and directed the school’s spring play for nearly 20 years, topical shows that communicate messages of respect and kindness; and he helped start the Kreps Middle School Gay Straight Alliance nearly five years ago. That made Kreps the first middle school in New Jersey to have the organization, and the alliance is one of only a handful of GSA middle school groups across the country, And now, there is a possibility that Seda-Schreiber will have an even bigger stage to be that voice for the voiceless, that friend to the friendless., He is one of seven finalists, chosen from hundreds of nominees across the United States, for the National Education Association’s “Social Justice Activist of the Year” award., Seda-Schreiber was nominated by a colleague, Chris Carpenter; was endorsed by the East Windsor Education Association, the Mercer County Education Association and the New Jersey Edcuation Association; and is strongly supported by his students. And now the general public gets to vote online., “To know that people saw my story, were touched by my story, support what I’m doing for the kids I’m doing it for, would mean the world to me,” said Seda-Schreiber. “But even more so than my personal gratification, it would mean the world to my students. These are kids who are in the hallway every day, in the community every day, a lot times feeling scared, feeling unsupported, unloved, but who don’t have a voice. If I were to win the honor, it would give me a national platform to speak for them. And that means more than any award or certificate or honor that I may receive personally.”, Seda-Schreiber said that the Gay Straight Alliance at Kreps was formed because one student came to a colleague and said that he was scared, that he was being bullied and that he didn’t feel comfortable in school. Seda-Schreiber wanted to change that for him and all others like him., The ultimate goal is to provide an environment where groups like the Gay Student Alliance don’t have to exist., “So we speak up loud enough and we speak up strongly enough and beautifully enough so that everybody hears us and everybody can walk the hallways proudly and safely and everybody can be in the community proudly and safely,” said Seda-Schreiber. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you were born, who you love or how you live your life, just that everybody is accepted. And once that happens — that ideal — then there is no need for these organizations.”, Although Seda-Schreiber doesn’t believe he will see that in his lifetime, that doesn’t dampen his spirit, enthusiasm or belief in a better tomorrow., “But I am so proud of how far we’ve come. It amazes me because we have come so far so quickly recently,” he said. “I think it’s amazing what we can do as a people, as a society, as a culture. I am astonished every day with the way we reach out for each other and to each other.”, It all comes back around to community for Seda-Schreiber. And he’s glad to be back in Hightstown, giving something back., “This is the truth: I walk in my classroom each and every morning and I smile. I think it is a tremendous honor that this community has allowed me to come back here and give back because I got so much growing up here. I got so much out of being a student here and being a member of this community,” he said., “Coming back here was the best thing that I could have done, not only for myself, selfishly, but for my community because it shows that strength, that belief that you give what you get. And I got so much from being here that I am so proud and honored to be able to be here every day and give just a small amount of that back. If I can do for one kid what was done for me, then I’ve done my bit.”, Now his supporters can do their bit by voting online for Seda-Schreiber for the “Social Justice Activist of the Year” award. To do so, go to http://educationvotes.nea.org/2017sja/ and look for the big “Vote” button. Deadline for voting is May 30., “My strong belief is that you never fight against something, you fight for something,” said Seda-Schreiber. “When someone is hateful, you are that much more loving. And when someone speaks against the things that are at the very core of what we believe, you make sure your voice is that much louder. You always do it respectfully, but you always do it with great passion and great strength.”