Arizona Legislators will visit classrooms during the Take Your Legislator to School event from September 15-19, including Kate Brophy McGee who will spend the day in the classroom of Karen Brisbane, a 4th/5th grade National Board Certified Teacher at Kiva Elementary School in Scottsdale Unified, and John Kavanagh will spend the day in Chris Porter Marsh’s AP Literature and Juniors English Honors classrooms at Chaparral High School.
In Mrs. Brisbane’s 4th/5th grade classroom, students will learn about the weather, while 5th graders will ask questions about running a campaign related to Biztown (Junior Achievement Curriculum on being a citizen in a free enterprise system).
In Mrs. Porter Marsh’s classrooms, students will learn such things as how the political process works and will be able to utilize information from the visits in potential AP Language essays. The AP Language essays are often geared toward “Contemporary American Values” and the politicians and the political world exemplify this very well.
In a professional arena garnished with ideas and creativity, some might say adapting preconceived and ready-made initiatives is taking the easy way out. However, when it comes to implementing the Take Your Legislator to School
program in Arizona during the 2014–2015 school year, that notion couldn’t be further from the truth.
The fledgling program, which was originally fueled by Bobbie O’Boyle, Executive Director of the Arizona Education Foundation
, has required a substantial amount of preparation, time, energy and resources.
“The planning and implementation is complicated. I first heard about similar programs at a National Teacher of the Year conference. I had the idea of bringing it to our state in 2013 and it took me that much time to think about how to make it work. Our organization just didn’t have the depth nor breadth to do it alone,” O’Boyle explained.
With the support of several education-related organizations, the TYLTS committee set out to identify 90 teacher leaders in 30 legislative districts across the state, with the goal of bringing nearby legislators into the classroom. Each participating educator was asked to complete a four-hour training and two online interactive collaboration sessions. All preparation will culminate with the execution of TYLTS week, September 15–19, 2014.
“In this first year, we have recruited teachers to participate who have been recognized in a variety of ways, including AEF Teachers of the Year, National Board Certified Teachers, Master Teachers, AEA teacher leaders, and others identified through Rodel’s Exemplary Teacher Initiative,” said Taryl Hansen, Ed.D., Arizona K12 Center Director of Teacher Leadership.
“Together, we hope to build this into a program that gains momentum and has legislators clamoring to participate,” she added.
Logistics aside, the program objective is even more complex than sending 90 legislators to visit 90 campuses. According to TYLTS committee members, the hope is that the educator and political official will form a two-way, sustainable relationship.
“The goal is two-pronged. The first is to give all 90 Arizona legislators an authentic experience in the shoes of a classroom teacher. The second is to have the teacher and legislator establish a relationship so that there’s an understanding between the two of them,” O’Boyle claimed. “It’s important for teachers to be current on bills that are being considered and discussed. It’s also critical for legislators to focus on the impact of schools, students, teachers and so forth. I believe the teachers can prove to be a resource.”
Jennifer Loredo, AEA’s Organizational Consultant, said she sees a gap between legislators and classroom teachers. During the training sessions for TYLTS week, she said she stressed to attendees that legislators and teachers are not going to become best friends overnight.
“I see the void at the capitol with legislators who have no clue what is happening in Arizona’s classrooms. I can talk facts and figures all day long with them, but there is nothing like seeing a room of 42 freshmen in an algebra class without enough desks and textbooks, or a hot room because the air conditioning isn’t working properly, Loredo said. “Ongoing conversations, plus viewing what is actually happening in classrooms, may just make a few legislators think twice about their votes and priorities moving forward.”
The AEA lobbyist also claims public education is at a pivotal point.
“In Arizona, K-12 education makes up 41 percent of the state budget—the largest chunk—yet it’s still not nearly enough funding due to all the cuts that have occurred since 2009. If we don’t actively engage public policy makers now, frankly it’s ‘shame on us’ for sitting on the sidelines. Educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions … it’s time to tell our stories,” she urged.
Includes information from Becky Kelbaugh with Scottsdale Unified School District