|FOREST OF THE RAIN PRODUCTIONS An Educational Affairs Organization||
Dr. Mike Robinson
I am Dr. Mike Robinson, Founder and CEO of Forest Of The Rain Productions and your host for Parents and PGCPS: Conversations for the Engaged Parent and Dedicated Educator.
I have embarked on a journey across our beautifully diverse communities to talk with parents/families, educators, community and civic leaders regarding their views and perspectives about education in Prince George’s County.
One of those voices is Joseline Peña-Melnyk.
Dr. Mike Robinson: What is your educational philosophy?
Joseline Peña-Melnyk: Our children deserve our commitment to quality education. And our communities will become more attractive places to settle and raise a family when we make clear our commitment to education.
Our children need a solid education to reach farther and keep America competitive in a global economy. We achieve that by supporting our kids with good schools, colleges, and universities, and we need to make that education attainable without putting a mountain of student debt on their backs.
I also am committed to expanding programs for career and technical education (CTE), because a high school degree is not enough for many of today’s jobs and a college education is not right for everyone. CTE helps prepare our young people for jobs in high-demand fields that pay wages that can support a family.
I’ve fought and succeeded in controlling tuition increases at the University of Maryland as a member of Maryland’s General Assembly. I also co-sponsored legislation supporting apprenticeship and workforce development programs in Maryland’s secondary schools and community colleges (HB 644, 2009).
Dr. Mike Robinson: What do you see as the future of education in Prince George’s County Maryland?
Joseline Peña-Melnyk: I would like to see smaller class sizes, better teacher salaries and increased investment in re-building old school facilities. We need modern, technologically up-to-date, and energy efficient learning centers. At my children’s school and many others, there are “temporary” classroom sheds put in place to address overcrowding, but that have lasted for a decade or more. There is a backlog of reinvestment that we need to address that also could provide jobs that we need today.
Dr. Mike Robinson: What are plans to support public education in Prince George’s County?
Joseline Peña-Melnyk: I focus on three things. First, in the General Assembly, I work to protect and expand state funding for education allocated to Prince George’s County. This session I introduced House Bill 679 which gives the local school system flexibility with their calendar. Second, the leadership of our school board is important, and I work to identify and support qualified, independent and committed people to run for school board. And third, I focus on what I can do locally. For example, High Point High School is one of the oldest high schools in our system and needs to be replaced. I work with other community leaders to promote a new, modern replacement for High Point.
Dr. Mike Robinson: How can parents, families and communities play a significant role in the future of education in Prince George’s County?
Joseline Peña-Melnyk: There are many levels on which to get involved. Volunteer at your local school, run for school board, support candidates that really have a commitment to improving education in Prince George’s County, and be willing as citizens to make a long-term investment in our children. As you and I know, investing in education does not provide a quick return, but it's essential if my children, your children, and your neighbor’s children are going to inherit what we’ve been given and what we’ve built and carried it forward as good stewards. I often speak about civics to school classes, I write recommendation letters and give small scholarships to students that are attending Maryland colleges, and I allow students to shadow me in Annapolis and to get experience in my office. We all have something that we can do.
Joseline Peña-Melnyk has represented Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties as state delegate for ten years. She feels privileged to work on behalf of her constituents and a passion for public service is at the core of her character.
As a child Joseline emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. with her single mother and sister. Her mom worked in New York’s garment industry, often struggled to make ends meet, and there was a time when the family was on welfare because Joseline’s father did not pay child support. But despite tough circumstances, Joseline succeeded in school and learned English. She was an Equal Opportunity Program scholar and the first in her family to attend college. “When I look back on it now, I see how much I benefited from programs that open doors for minority students.”
Joseline feels an obligation to fight for people on society’s margins – the ones who are often overlooked. One summer during law school she worked in Alabama to represent prisoners on death row. Another summer she was in Ohio farm country visiting migrant farm workers and fighting for basic living conditions, a safe work environment, and fair wages. After Joseline got her law degree, she took court appointments to represent abused and neglected children, and to provide criminal defense for the poor. Later she joined Eric Holder’s U.S. Attorney’s Office and prosecuted criminals; building cases by working closely with police officers, witnesses and victims in the community.
Thank you for your interest in good government. Let’s make Maryland stronger together!
And she took time to be a mom, having a son in 1998 and twin daughters in 2000. But the urge to stay involved in the community would not go away. Joseline has served on the board of Casa de Maryland, a community social service organization focused on immigrant issues, and she ran for, and won, a seat on the College Park City Council. In 2006 she ran a long-shot, grass roots campaign for Maryland’s General Assembly, and with dedicated volunteers and modest contributions from ordinary people she won.
Joseline is committed to making Maryland stronger, fairer, and more inclusive. For example, she co-sponsored a bill to prohibit discrimination based on “gender identity” in public accommodations, employment, and housing (HB1265 (2014)). As the “floor leader”, she defended the bill from challengers during a vigorous four-hour floor debate.
From her own experience, Joseline understands that many working families, despite their best efforts, still need help to make ends meet. She co-sponsored legislation to increase the minimum wage, expand opportunities for minority businesses, broaden the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, crack down on mortgage fraud, and create state apprenticeship and workforce development programs in our secondary schools and community colleges. (See, e.g., HB 1370; HB 128, 2011; HB 456, 2011; HB 644, 2009; HB 360, 2008.)