The gold standard for social justice: Kreps Middle School teacher receives national award for his activism


Robt Seda-Schreiber

By Mike Morsch, Regional Editor
Art teacher Robt Seda-Schreiber was sitting in his classroom at Melvin H. Kreps Middle School in East Windsor when he received word that he had been named the 2017 Social Justice Activist of the Year by the National Education Association (NEA).
And he had to keep quiet about it for a month.
“I had to not shout it from the rooftops and not hug each and every one of my students and colleagues as I walked the hallways that day,” said Seda-Schreiber.
That’s because the folks in the Human Rights Division of the NEA asked him not to say anything until the group’s annual conference June 29 in Boston, where the award would be announced.
So Seda-Schreiber had to be satisfied to share the news only with his wife, Cyndi.
“I couldn’t wait to run home to my lovely bride so I could share it with her, since she had worked so hard to help me to win and had been so very patient and supportive during the campaign,” said Seda-Schreiber.
He was 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.
The annual award is given to an NEA member who demonstrates the ability to lead, organize and engage educators, parents and the community to advocate on social justice issues that impact the lives of students, fellow educators and the communities they serve.
Seda-Schreiber was nominated by colleague Chris Carpenter; was endorsed by the East Windsor Education Association, the Mercer County Education Association and the New Jersey Education Association; and was strongly supported by his students. The general public ended up playing a large role as well by casting votes online for the award.
The NEA was so impressed with its award winner’s acceptance speech that it asked him to speak again at the closing ceremony of the conference, for which he was played onstage by the super-funky DJ Spinna.
In 1993, his first year of teaching, Seda-Schreiber 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.
“This award is an extraordinary honor and privilege and I am indeed touched, humbled and proud,” said Seda-Schreiber. “But I am even more thrilled that it will allow me the platform to speak on behalf of all the kids I serve and all the other students I can help exponentially.”
He said the award will allow him to “reach out and teach out” regarding the importance of Gay Straight Alliances in every school and how the GSA can save lives, both literally and figuratively.
“Being in a GSA keeps kids off the streets, out of the hospitals, away from the jails, safe from their own hands and even more so, the hands of others,” said Seda-Schreiber. “GSAs are love, and love is contagious. They are a wonderful and inspiring microcosm of community-building: kids reaching out to other kids, creating relationships and forming identities through conversation, mutual understanding and respect. Simply hearing and seeing each other and simply being heard and being seen — some of them for the very first time.”
The veteran teacher said he realizes that the award is not only a validation of what he has done to this point in his career, but also a call to arms for what he will do moving forward with the rest of his career.
“I fully intend, and solemnly promise, to move this forward with the love, respect and strength of character it deserves and demands,” said Seda-Schreiber. “My gratitude for receiving this title will be shown a hundredfold in the actions I take to continue to deserve it. Now that that award has been given, the kudos received and the spotlight fades, I know fully that now is when the real work begins.”
He said he appreciates the support he received from his family, students, colleagues, union members and people from across the country who voted for him.
“That all these people believed in me and what I can continue to achieve is staggering to me,” he said. “Absolutely none of it could have happened without the advocacy of all those folks and I could not imagine doing what I do without each and every one of them. I cannot thank them enough, nor can I express my unending gratitude to the greater community who have always shown me great kindness and tremendous support. In lieu of trying to quantify what is immeasurable, I will simply and truly try to live up to the confidence and the belief they have shown in me every day, and try my absolute best to make a difference in their honor.”