My name is Andrea Toledano, and I intend to run for Broward County Commissioner to reform the education system outside of the classroom, providing children and families that sense of belonging that ultimately allows communities to thrive. Born in Venezuela at the cusp of the Millennial and Gen-Z generations, it's as important as ever to give the younger generations a voice in the Broward County Commission. Generational representation provides much-needed perspective to issues we face in our community each day. Although we did not create the problems, it is my conviction that we’ll provide insights that, together with the other public officials, will contribute to finding solutions.
We must address an unfortunate opioid crisis (much like we see in other big cities across the US) along with growing homelessness due primarily to a rising cost of living. Broward County was ranked the most cost-burdened area in the country, which is saying a lot. This means that there's a huge gap between median wages and the average cost of housing. What's more: Fort Lauderdale, our biggest city, which has been expanding its airport (and thus increasing tourist appeal), is under pressure to fix its sewage infrastructure (and thereby water quality) after decades of neglect. We're also focusing on ensuring proper transportation sales tax oversight.
The issues mentioned above require quick action. As we work on that, we must simultaneously plan for the future--getting people off the streets doesn't guarantee that they'll be on track for success in the long run nor that they won't make their way back, and ultimately, despite shortcomings, I see pride across Broward each day. As we work on finding solutions to our county's problems, there are also long-term programs to implement into our community--namely, programs for children and families. This is the foundation to our educational infrastructure, and it will create a solid future for our residents. Let's start with taking a significant step forward. After all, we talk about a better future. We talk about opportunities. We talk about what's going on in the classroom. What does that look like? What about the education that's going on outside of the classroom—including what’s being taught at home?
From my experience, change starts with an open mind — incorporating community initiatives that promote emotional intelligence. Think of it in terms of giving children a slice of cauliflower pizza: they think they're eating pizza, but you're able to get some vegetables in as well. There's ways to make learning fun -- and to instill values and skills that promote the well-being of our children.
We can create these changes by creating programs such as:
- Honest drug and alcohol seminars;
- Park programming for kids to integrate with others;
- Programs for new moms;
- 'Life skills' workshops for children;
- Networking 101 programs to promote sociability;
- And strategic mental health initiatives in schools and the community.
We need to see where we’re spending our money and reassess accordingly, because effective programming is often cost-efficient if designed strategically. I have been designing curriculum alongside professionals across various industries to demonstrate feasibility to voters.
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As you can imagine, being born in Venezuela has definitely sparked a lot of interest in international diplomacy and government. I studied political science at Florida International University, where I helped advocate for RESULTS, a non-profit that helps fight poverty. I then went on to complete a master's in education at the University of Pennsylvania, where I completed an independent study on the future of distance learning in higher education and did research for Write4Change (a writing platform where students share creative and thesis-driven works with others around the world). Currently, I sit on the Editorial Board of a journal run by students at the university - and I am involved with education, workforce development, and young professionals committees across Broward.
Growing up, I attended Jewish day schools and was raised in North Miami Beach, about a mile south of the Broward-Dade county line. My parents moved to this country in 2000 and worked hard to provide for my family. Shortly after we moved, my family opened up a textiles business in Dania Beach, and today, we have a business that is based out of the same warehouse establishment. As a result of my upbringing, I understand the value of community integration, fair representation, and a quality education.
I've always believed that non-profit organizations provide an excellent framework for education reform: teach kids lessons that they don't know they're learning. Equip them with valuable life skills -- like personal finance, creative writing, and social engagement -- that can then be funneled back into workforce development. Along with a former NFL linebacker, I am working on developing a nonprofit myself. I see, firsthand, the impact that these initiatives have on our youth. For example, I run two programs weekly at a Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County location: a volunteer creative writing workshop as well as a "College Corner" program.
The creative writing workshop allows for students to express themselves within the rough structure of a prompt, and often, pent-up frustration and emotions come to the surface - even in a rap song that must use an arbitrary word like 'pen'. The children, typically between the ages of 11 to 16, are able to share their work if they so desire - and if they don't, the act of putting their thoughts on paper can be quite therapeutic in itself. Creative writing workshops encourage students to see writing in a positive light, and this change in mindset, as well as practice, might even improve academic writing abilities, confidence, and other skills over time.
The "College Corner" program, on the other hand, is based on less creative (yet equally important) pursuits: we define interests; create candidacy building plans; pour over college scholarship and job databases; write and adapt resumes as well as cover letters; and fill out FAFSA as well as college applications. Most students do not know the amount of scholarship resources out there nor the alternatives to four-year institutions, and that's been the most incredible part of walking students through this program each week. When we write the scholarship essays, the students often look on in awe as we finish writing a 500-word essay on what they plan to do with their degrees. This truly gets them thinking. After the first session, one of the 12th grade students that regularly works on scholarship essays with me, asked: "Why didn't I meet you sooner?!" And proceeded to tell me that he now enjoys writing.
For kids who have been through traumatic experiences, an activity such as writing should serve as a means to release anger and frustration in a healthy way as opposed to letting it simmer and permeate in unhealthy ways (whether through violence, depression, or drug abuse) later on. We need to reform school lesson plans, but in the meantime, there are community initiatives and business partnerships that can be strategically funded to fill in the gaps that schools have yet to address. We need to educate kids on substance abuse, addiction, and alternative coping methods, such as writing to express subdued angst.
This is home, and 10 or 20 years from now, I want our children to be equipped with the skills they need to continue making this home. Imagine what we will see if we start to care about EQ just as much as we care about IQ.
It starts with our children.
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Shane Sultan endorsed
“Andrea will make a good leader and is very passionate and dedicated to making a positive impact here in South Florida.”