On Our Own of Prince George's County

Meet the Director

This isn’t the easiest story for me to share…

For many, many years, I was the victim of intense, institutionalized bullying. Not typical schoolyard bullying; mine was pervasive, psychological, and insidious bullying from my first days at school.

As a child, and through high school, I attended a strict, parochial, Orthodox Jewish school, and from my very first days, I stood out. In an environment where conformity was the key to survival, I stood out. At age six, I decided to attend my first day of school in bright yellow pants and plaid shirt.

When asked, during what I later learned was an informal IQ test, "What color is the sky?" I told the psychologist it, "Looks a little grey today." From then on, I was labeled a troublemaker. Teachers and classmates alike glommed on to that label and reminded me, day-in and day-out, for thirteen years, that I didn't belong among them.

When I started questioning the fundamental traditions of my religion, around age 11 or 12, that's when the bullying really ramped up. It wouldn't just be classmates teasing me on the playground; my actual TEACHERS turned against me in the classrooms. One teacher even told my parents that, spiritually speaking, I was, "A lost cause."

I still don't know what serendipity empowered me to emerge from that dark space, but for the past decade, I have been fighting, day after day, on behalf of those for whom some else’s label is limiting their potential.

Whether it was students in an “on-level” class who were not expected to think for themselves, or disadvantaged students in one of the poorest schools in DC, to adolescents with special needs who were not receiving the required accommodations in their classrooms, I fought.

I moved on to fight on behalf of community college students who were being unfairly held back because they lacked the foundational skills to advance out of zero-credit remedial courses. Through supportive instruction, I helped more than 90% of these students not only advance into credit-bearing courses, but watched many cross the graduation stage. 

I continued to fight for adults with autism, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities who were denied access to community-based employment and leisure activities. I supported dozens of adults, many of whom had never accessed public transportation, to use the community-based resources and explore their communities, enjoying restaurants and sports activities, and building confidence amid their non-disabled peers.

And now, I share my message with audiences around the Country and around the World. I speak to educators, advocates, and students themselves about the damaging act of labeling and the dangers of pernicious self-fulfilling prophecies. And I continue to fight on behalf of those whom others have “counted out.”

That is my calling.

Matthew Ratz, M.Ed.
Hours of Operation
12:00 pm 5:00 pm: Wednesday, Thursday & Friday
11:00 am 4:00 pm: Saturday
  On Our Own of Prince George's County
10007 Rhode Island Ave
College Park Maryland 20740
Office: (301) 699-8939