She’s 13 and some state leaders listen to her

7th grader speaks at Advance Illinois Legislator Forum

Cynthia Taylor-Cutler discusses her experience speaking in front of state educators, legislators, and advocates.
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Cynthia Taylor-Cutler discusses her experience speaking in front of state educators, legislators, and advocates.

Cynthia Taylor-Cutler is the one they ask to be the emcee during events at Mason Clark Middle School in East St. Louis. She’s the one to help struggling students. She’s the one to reach out to students who are going through a hard time.

She’s 13.

Cynthia so impressed representatives of Advance Illinois during a tour of her school this spring that they asked her to speak at a legislator forum in Springfield the following week.

“Cynthia inspired all of us by providing her perspective on Illinois education policies before an audience that included many of the state’s leaders,” Ginger Ostro, executive director of Advance Illinois, said in a news release. “Cynthia’s words were a reminder that students want high-quality educational experiences that challenge and engage them — experiences that result in higher achievement and better preparedness for college, career and civic life. It’s our responsibility to ensure that we provide an education that meets students’ expectations so that they can achieve their dreams.”

Cynthia admits she was nervous when speaking before people she never met before, but was proud she got her point across.

“I felt proud to know that people listened, and there may be a change,” Cynthia said.

Mason-Clark Middle School seventh grader Cynthia Taylor-Cutler has been recognized by Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Tony Smith as an inspiration for students across the state for her role in helping map out the future of public education. Derik Holtmann

She even got high praise from Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Tony Smith, who mentioned her in a weekly newsletter.

“She was confident and wise beyond her years as she answered questions about education in front of a room full of lawmakers, educators, and educational advocates,” Smith said in his weekly newsletter. “Thank you, Cynthia, for reminding us that feedback and insight from all of our stakeholders — including students — must inform our work.”

Cynthia was a member of a three-person panel during the forum along with Smith and Bill Curtain, a teacher at Carbondale High School.

Cynthia said she was “shocked” when she read Smith’s newsletter. “I was beyond amused that someone else took the time to write that about me,” she said.

Although East St. Louis may not be the best place, some of the best people come out of here.

Cynthia Taylor-Cutler, seventh-grader at Mason Clark Middle School

Cynthia says she’s always been an outgoing person, ever since she was younger. “I was never a shy kid. I liked to talk to new people. I would sit around adults and have regular conversations with them,” she said.

Cynthia’s mother, Nicole Cutler, said her daughter was well-spoken during the forum.

“It didn’t sound like a seventh-grader speaking in front of a room of lawmakers at an education forum,” Cutler said. “She sounded like she had been in the board room before. I was really impressed.”

Here’s what Cynthia had to say about the experience and her plans for the future:

Q: Why was it important for you to speak during the Advance Illinois Legislator Forum?

A: “It’s a lot of people in the education system that make laws and rules for us that don’t really know what it’s like from a student perspective or from living here.”

Q: What did you tell them?

A: “I talked about the importance of teacher development in our schools and how school improvement has progressively got better for (District) 189. I also talked about how it’s important in education law making to really take the time to listen to students’ perspectives a little more.”

Q: What did you hope to accomplish by speaking at the forum?

A: “I really want them to make a change for our students, make them feel ready to come to school and have something to look forward to in their education — all of our students.”

Q: What do you want other people to know about District 189?

A: “I really want them to know that it’s more than our sports. We’re way more than our football teams and basketball teams. We’re actually a very intellectual group. We have gone over the years and met a lot of norms that no one ever thought we would accomplish. You shouldn’t really judge a book by it’s cover. Although East St. Louis may not be the best place, some of the best people come out of here.”

Q: Do you have an idea where you want to go to college?

A: “I want to go to Berkeley or Stanford and study communication.”

Q: What do you hope to do for a career?

A: “I want to be an international speaker and go country-to-country and speak about motivational things.” (Cynthia hasn’t ruled out going into politics, herself.)

Q: Why did you get involved in student council?

A: “I like to talk, focus and work on my leadership skills to become a better leader for my school.”

Q: What do you like about playing volleyball?

A: “The power. It’s something to take your mind off things.”

Q: Do you have any plans for the summer?

A: “Summer track (she throws discus and shot put) and volleyball.”

Q: What do you like about discus and shot put?

A: “It’s really different from volleyball; it’s a different ballpark. You have to be a really powerful person to pick up a shot put or a discus.”

Q: What are you looking forward to about high school?

A: “I look forward to the new atmosphere. ... I look forward to learning new things and the (Running Start program).”

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

Meet Cynthia Taylor-Cutler

  • Age: 13
  • School: Seventh-grader at Mason Clark Middle School in East St. Louis
  • Family: Mom Nicole Cutler, dad Jamaal Horton, and four siblings — LaDonna, Lorenzo, Loren and Chrishawn
  • Favorite subject: English
  • School activities: Student council president, volleyball and track (during the summer)
  • Hobbies: Reading (Currently reading “The Sun is Also A Star” by Nicola Yoon)
  • Role models: student council adviser Dyshunda Curtis and big sister LaDonna, who is 16
  • Favorite food: Shrimp and chicken Alfredo
  • Favorite restaurant: Olive Garden
  • Favorite musician: Janine and the Mixtape
  • Favorite TV show: “Avatar”
  • Favorite movie: “Malibu’s Most Wanted”