02/06/2012 04:32 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2012

We Can All Make a Difference

We often talk about our beliefs, values and convictions. It can be truly magical when we move beyond words toward action, reaffirming my belief that we can all make a difference.

In a week that has been nothing short of a whirlwind, I have gone from the White House and the Capitol in Washington to a studio in Hollywood -- telling the story of the financial crisis in my school district. The Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania has experienced drastic cuts to programs, libraries and school staff. The district announced it would not be able to make payroll in January.

America's public schools can be likened to a domino game, where schools align in intricate rows.

Cut corners and wrong moves send the pieces spiraling, jeopardizing students' future and that of our nation.

So how do we stabilize these teetering pieces? We do it by working together and making a commitment to children. We're all accountable for student success.

Ellen DeGeneres showed her commitment by shining a spotlight on our plight. She presented a $100,000 check from JCPenney to help students at Columbus Elementary School in Chester Upland. Their generosity is amazing. Ellen truly warmed my heart when she looked into the camera and said to students in my district, "We believe in you. Don't ever give up."

Despite the challenges, the dedicated educators and members of the Chester Upland Education Association will never give up on students in our area. The union demonstrated a deep commitment to students by keeping teachers and support staff together and focused on the real issue -- helping our students succeed. We voted and vowed to keep coming to work as long as we could, in hope of getting a paycheck at some point, even though there was no guarantee.

Quality public education should be guaranteed for all students. However, news stories and reports like "Starving America's Public Schools: How Budget Cuts and Policy Mandates Are Hurting Our Nation's Students" tell a very different, very grim picture. There have been massive cuts to pre-K and kindergarten programs across the county. These programs provide the solid academic foundation students need to carry them through college. Class sizes are going up, so there's less one-on-one attention for students. Extracurricular activities are being eliminated.

I've seen how teachers in my school make resources stretch and attempt to make up for lost classes like music, band and technology. Teachers are doing art projects with the students. I've seen others come in early or stay late to create dance routines and compose music... just to make sure students get a well-rounded education. But there are only so many "stretches" we can make with resources this low.

Elected officials must do their part by giving our students and teachers the resources they need. It's difficult to provide our students with a quality education in the face of massive funding cuts.

I always tell my students that you can't go wrong by doing what is right. So I charge everyone who is reading this to stand up for public education and our children. Whether it is taking time to read a book to a child, mentoring, or attending a school board meeting to push for an after-school program--we really can all make a difference.

Students have a right to attend great public schools with caring and qualified teachers. We all have a responsibility to ensure that right for them. The future depends on them and they are depending on us.