“I Want to Live,” one Student’s Letter to the Philly School District.

Last weekend, I walked 62-65 miles from Philadelphia to Atlantic City to raise funds for an educational non-profit known as We Love Philly, at both our kick-off event and at the end of our trek, a student by the name of Daisie Cardona spoke.

Below is the transcript of what Daisie read on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

A letter to the school district,

My name is Daisie Cardona, I’m 19 years old, I’m from the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, and a member of Gen Z. Many people just look at us as just teenagers and think “yea those are just teenagers,” but being young gives us an even better view of the world. As teenagers, we see the world differently, and we’re here today to ask you to listen to us and to help us build the world we imagine. Which starts with schools and our education. 

When I was younger, my life consisted of volunteering at the Salvation Army and school. As a kid this was heaven, but as I got to first grade I realized how hard it was for my mom to keep food on the table, and the school wouldn’t let us take any food out of the lunchroom. So I got my mom to get me a new book bag. I picked out a cheap one with a lunch bag attached, so while no one was looking I’d put food in there and take it home. After a while I saw more and more kids doing the same. 

Later on – school was more like a war zone. No longer were we protected inside the school walls, and it wasn’t only in my little school but in so many schools across America. In fact while I was in class instead of giving my teacher my full attention I’d spend my day working out an exit plan, in case of a shooting inside the school. I mean who needs this stuff anyway, it’s a waste of time to imagine what I was gonna be when if grew up, didn’t need this stuff if I’m gonna die anyway right.  I tried to keep my classmates in mind when doing so, because in war, it’s no man gets left behind, ever. 

Daisie Cardona and Carlos Aponte crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge.

In your school system, many of us go from child to soldier. The tougher kids are on the front line, shields for the younger, smaller kids. Because popular and nerd don’t matter when you’re bred to die. 

What good are all of these algebra classes going to be, are they more important than learning to do our taxes, or writing a check, or even learning to read? 

A while ago I met a little boy, he was in 2nd grade and to my surprise he couldn’t read, but no one ever noticed. 

Did you know that 1 in 4 kids across America will grow up without learning to read? Or that  85% of kids in the juvenile system are illiterate, and more than 60% of full grown prisoners are illiterate. Did you know that starting in 3rd grade test scores are sold to people, and those people use those numbers to predict how many prisons and prison beds will be needed?

Are you kidding me? We are people, we are children, we should not have to live this way! Were kids we should be out living our lives, playing with our friends, but instead we are standing here, we are marching, we are begging for you to hear us. Cause you know what? I’d happily die today if it meant those kids would get to grow up in a school system that really wants to teach them, with police and government officials who actually want us to succeed. 

Daisie reading on the Boardwalk.

I want those kids to be able to live past 18, go to high school, live, travel.

And you know what, I don’t want to die, I want to live. I want to live with my hood house and my iron fence, my Pitbull and maybe some foster kids. The neighbor throwing parties that last all night in the summer, and an amount of love and community you can’t find anywhere else. 

Not all teachers are bad, in fact I know a lot of good ones. Miss Lane, who let me and others hang out in her room during lunch, helped me apply and get into the college of my dreams, even if we both knew I could never afford it. 

Miss Obrin, my poetry coach without her I’d never have the confidence to come up here and talk to all of you. 

Miss Bower, my AP Literature Teacher, one of my favorite stops during my school day. She understood that a lot of us have issues understanding stuff and helped us. Instead of a prison class writing papers every day, like I expected, we read plays as a class, there was always an assignment where we’d be on our feet walking around the classroom. 

Coach Hardy, not only runs the Kensington Soccer Club, but teaches Spanish which totally surprised me at first. Mr. Issacs, a coach but also my AP Govt Teacher, is another favorite of mine, he was so excited when he got to teach us about impeachment while one was going on.

Mx. Luebbert, my non-binary English teacher, their confidence in themselves showed me to be proud of who I am. 

I could go on for hours, but with great teachers, we need great tools for them to use. But instead, a lot of teachers go out of pocket for supplies for their students to use. That is not acceptable, our teachers don’t get paid enough as it is to have to buy supplies for their students, or buy food for them to take home cause in places like Philly there’s never enough food at home. 

But you know something? After all of this; I made it to high school then graduated from high school as a member of the class of 2020! I’m alive, and my high school KHSA was never a place where I felt alone and never felt I had to change to be someone else. I met kids as weird and crazy as I am, I learned so much there, and not just about English or math. 

But about what family really is, and hope, love, kindnesses, respect, and being completely YOU. That’s what schools should teach, individuality, about the world, our lives, the lives of others. We as a country cannot afford to continue acting like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Or that the mistakes we’ve made don’t exist.  

The school system can’t force kids who’ve only been here a year to be able to keep up with Kate, the smartest kid in the class. You try to force us to abandon our heritage and follow your colonizer’s ways. 

Did you  know that the only difference between school 100 years ago and now is that now we have smart boards? Or that school was only created to prepare kids for work in the factories? Stop acting like we’re still the same, cause if someone came up to me and talked to me like they did 100 years ago I would be in prison instead of talking to you. 

We do not learn the same way they did, if you try to hit me with that ruler I will break it over you. I will teach my children to walk with their head held high, and if you don’t understand, make sure they know it. I will teach them that we do not start fights, but we finish them – even if that fight is with the Mayor, Councilmembers, the President, the school district, or with that boy who keeps trying to touch your butt. 

I will teach them that the tongue is mightier than the sword. That even though blades are pretty and sharp, you will go to prison for stabbing someone. That – yeah sometimes people only understand with punches and fists, but it is better to use your voice, make yourself heard. Throw the book at their opponent, and I don’t mean that literally. 

That if that teacher keeps skipping over you for those boys, you stand up and talk over them. And if you get suspended for that, I will take you out for ice cream. 

I’m here today to pave the way for them. We, teenagers, Gen Z we fight for them, the ones who came after. Who will come after. For Gen A, and our littler Gen Zers. 

Make sure they hear you, make your voices loud enough. We’re paving the way, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Remember no matter what I’m so proud of you (unless you’re a rapist, abuser, or murderer), good luck. 

To the school District, your move. See ya next time. 

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