Then she put forth a challenge to those in the room – and those involved in education around the state.
Ruiz, who was being honored as the Educator of the Year award for her numerous efforts to increase educational opportunities in the state, particularly for STEM – and particularly for people of color, especially females – said the state must do more.
In a rousing acceptance speech that was one of the best of the evening, Ruiz warned New Jersey – long a leader in innovative thinking – is at a crossroads with its education system when it comes to creating the next-generation of STEM scholars.
The significant learning loss from the pandemic combined with the educational shortcomings that impact certain zip codes – almost all of which serve people of color – is alarming, she said.
“We need more people of color in STEM-related fields,” she said. “We know where the future is heading.”
That future, Ruiz said, literally is now – with each child born in the state. That’s why Ruiz said she sponsored a bill that provides all new mothers with a home visit from the state – and why she is pushing for more universal pre-K education and for higher standards for all schools.
“If we fail at inception … than we will fall short consistently, and this room will grow smaller and smaller every year,” she said. “Consider me an advocate, a champion, a humbled individual, a mother, a warrior who is pushing the envelope.”
Ruiz said the state must act with courage and the innovative thinking of its greatest scientists. It’s why she is fighting to find ways to modify rules for teachers, enable more people of color to become STEM educators so those in underserved communities can see more people who look like them teaching them about science.
“If we don’t galvanize the courage and have the audacity to have uncomfortable conversations about changing how we do things in a classroom, then we’re going to keep repeating failure over and over again,” she told the crowd.
“I can guarantee you that as long as I’m down under the Golden Dome in Trenton, I will fight tooth and nail for that little girl who is strapped to a zip code that may not have the best public schools.”
Ruiz said she’ll do anything to help kids in those zip codes fulfill their God-given STEM potential. She said Edison himself would have wanted it that way, quoting him as she brought her speech to a close;
“If we did all of the things, we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves. If we give every child a teacher that could develop that extraordinary being that they’re born with, I guarantee you New Jersey will astound itself.”