Last week, Caucus of Working Educators members and their colleagues at Central H.S. organized a rally outside of back to school night, bringing attention to overcrowded classrooms, lack of custodians and counselors, and other ways that drastic education cuts affect our daily lives in schools. Placing 59 desks outside the school to demonstrate how many students 59 to a class really is, teachers and students handed out flyers (including in Spanish and Chinese) and spoke to families. Lois Weiner even gave a huge shout-out for the event.
What you probably haven't heard is that this action was put together over the course of only a few days, by full-time teachers teachers, counselors, and nurses. Here's the report from Central Biology Teacher KD Davenport:
A few weeks ago a friend shared an article on Facebook about teachers at Ridley Middle School holding a demonstration publicizing their contract situation at Back to School Night. I thought it was cool, and I thought, "wow, too bad we're not doing something like that." It wasn’t for another three days that I suddenly realized—Oh wait--we can!
With less than a week to go, I emailed a few other teachers at my school and asked if they’d be interested. “I know none of us have time to organize this,” I said, “but we will never again see as many parents as we will on Back to School Night.” On this night, I wanted parents to know about all the staff and resources that were NOT coming back to school because of the budget crisis.
I got an immediate positive response from my colleagues. With every response to my email, it seemed, another staff member was copied. People were amazing about contributing their gifts: One creative colleague suggested that we line up 59 desks to represent the number of students in an Algebra class on the first day of school; another put together a flier of facts and figures about the recent cuts; still others translated that flier into Spanish and Chinese for parents who may not speak English. Once we had a flyer made up, we adapted it into a press release and sent out a blast via email and Twitter to the media. Word quickly spread and on Back To School Night we were joined by reporters and photographers from NBC 10, ABC 6, The Inquirer, and WHYY Newsworks.
Our PFT building committee was incredibly supportive and publicized the event to the entire staff. Our administration was also on board. President McKenna came outside and spoke to the press, and we even got our Alumni and Home and School associations involved. Helen Gym from Parents United showed up, as did Jerry Jordan. And we did it all in a matter of days!
And even if you only have 5 minutes of spare time, you can do the same for your back to school night!
Here are some of the ways the WE members are speaking out about the state of education in Philadelphia --and what we can do to change it-- at their schools. Whatever the size of your school or the time you have available, these are some ideas to help you take action:
If you only have 5 minutes: Add a slide to your back to school night powerpoint about how budget cuts are affecting your school this year. See Central's flyer below for inspiration.
If you only have 15 minutes: Turn that slide into a flyer, and ask 2 of your supportive colleagues to hand them out as well!
If you only have an hour: Get a group of teachers at your school together to develop talking points and talk to families, just like Feltonville teachers did earlier this year.
If you have more than an hour: Organize an informational picket outside of your school! After a Central teacher came up with the idea, a small group put together some details, and pitched it to their colleagues at professional development.
What's your idea? Let us know! WE is here to support all educators in standing up for public education in Philadelphia.