Rep. Jamie Eldridge

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Throughout his career, Senator Jamie Eldridge has done things with other people (and, in fact, the people) in mind.
In November of 2002, Eldridge became the only candidate in Commonwealth history to win an election according to “clean election” rules, meaning that he did not take any money from special interests. In 2009, he was elected State Senator for the Middlesex and Worcester districts. Regardless of his office, Eldridge’s commitment to his constituents has been unshakable. Among his top priorities are such excellent elements as the economy, environment, ethics and public education.
When asked what his own early experiences in education entailed, Eldridge recalls his kindergarten teacher spending extra time with him in order to support his learning despite what Eldridge terms a “mild learning disability.” “Growing up in a middle class community, surrounded by well-educated adults, reinforced how the environment you grow up in shapes your destiny,” Eldridge reasons, grateful for his own upbringing and dedicated to helping those who did not enjoy similar circumstances.
Noting that many of his colleagues (and others) like to toss around the term “achievement gap,” Eldridge maintains that the real “gap” is the one that begins “when you’re not receiving daily, clear social signals that your education can continue beyond high school.”
Eldridge recalls college being a topic of discussion among his family and his peers as far back as first grade and assures that, had he not had the early support he did, he never would have been able or interested to pursue his current path.
“I would never have dared imagine a life in politics without several key teachers in my life,” he posits, noting that his own mother taught kindergarten in his native Action for 27 years. In fact, Eldridge adds, his mother was not just an inspiration to her hundreds of students, but also to him on a very personal and profound level.
“Throughout her time teaching, I remember getting a sense of the difference a person could make in public service,” Eldridge recalls, noting that he still has people come up to him today to recall with reverence the difference his mother made in their lives.
Eldridge also thanks a sixth grade teacher who instilled in him a love of current affairs and even foreign policy. “He taught us that history was being made each and every day,” Eldridge recalls. A high school history teacher also helped bring history to life for Eldridge and inspired him to become involved in policy himself.
“I pretty much knew by age 16 that I wanted to get involved in politics, and hopefully run for public office,” Eldridge explains. “I learned in school…that participating in politics was something I could actually do. I didn’t just have to be a spectator in influencing public policy and making a difference in people’s lives.”
Thanks to the writing support he garnered from his high school English teachers and the “tough love” he received from many of his teachers who saw great potential in him, Eldridge was able to internalize their high expectations and make the best of his life both in and after college.
After graduating from Johns Hopkins University and BC Law School, Eldridge began to take more inspiration from colleagues like Pam Resor and Bob Durand (for whom he had volunteered while in high school). Looking at students today, Eldridge is discouraged to see how few of them take advantage of such opportunities or even know they exist. He also decries the back seat that subjects like civics have taken to high-stakes testing and other pursuits.
“I think it is important that students receive a solid humanities-based education that helps them become better citizens, and give back to their community, state, and country,” he says, noting that, these days, “there may be less time dedicated to these subjects by teachers, because of administrative work or the increase in standardized testing that has risen in Massachusetts public schools.”
Eldridge even admits that civics were a minor concern even when he was in school.
“I don’t remember much instruction on civics at all,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for my fascination with history and politics, and the influence of my mom as a community-oriented kindergarten teacher, I doubt that I would have finished my K-12 studies with much social consciousness. Basic concepts such as the importance of voting, of participating in local government, of running for public office, were barely touched upon, if at all.”
While he would like to see a resurgence in civic studies and involvement, Eldridge is more concerned with the havoc high-stakes testing has wreaked on public schools.
“There is less time for creative learning or teaching,” he observes, noting that he regularly receives calls and emails from parents and teachers asking him to stand up against PARCC and other programs.
“I received…calls…from all ranges of the political spectrum,” Eldridge explains. “I also hear from students that they are over-scheduled [who] feel immense pressure to maintain their school work and get into a top college.”
By mentoring students as he was mentored, Eldridge hopes to encourage involvement and engagement so that more people can speak up for themselves and achieve their goals.
“I hope to contribute by providing more resources,” Eldridge says, mentioning efforts to reform the state’s Chapter 70 education funding formula. “I also hope to play a role in evaluating the true value of state and federal testing regimens and how that has impacted true learning by young people.”
As each day gives him the opportunity to use the skills and states of mind that were instilled in him from his earliest days, Eldridge says he feels privileged to serve the community as a legislator.
“I love my job immensely,” he says. “I feel blessed to have a role tackling these challenges and creating progress. We need every single person in society to be involved with that, if we want to have a chance to redefine the status quo.”