Thousands of parents, teachers, students and community members took part in walk-ins at schools statewide on Wednesday morning before classes started to show their support for students and teachers.
The walk-ins were organized by Arizona Educators United as part of the wear #RedForEd movement to provide information and seek community and student support for their efforts to encourage lawmakers to raise per-pupil education funding to what it was before the recession and raise teachers’ salaries by 20 percent to be competitive with neighboring states.
At Centennial High School, community members, parents, teachers held up signs reading “We Support #Red for Ed” and waved at parents and students as they drove onto the school’s Peoria campus.
“I’m involved for him,” said Jenna Ely, Future Teachers of America instructor at the school, as she held her young son’s hand on the sidewalk outside the school. “Because I’m a product of the public school system, and I want to him to attend an incredible public school system.”
A group of students at Centennial High School, including Kailey Benson, Taylor MacFarlane-West and Micah Geblis, painted a message on the rear window of their car that said “Students deserve more” before the walk-in started on the Peoria school campus.
“I have family members who are teachers – most of us all do – and our teacher Ms. Garrigan is so important to us, and we all like really believe that this is just …” said Abby Hauser, a student at Centennial High School.
“It’s a cause worth making people aware about,” said Cassidy Gamel, a student who finished her friend’s thought.
Christina White, a first-grade teacher at Sundance Elementary School in Peoria said their goal with the walk-in was to get parents and the community “to understand what we’re fighting for.”
“We are not OK with the state of education in Arizona right now, and we want better for our students, their children and our own children,” White said as she greeted students before classes. “That was our goal to get the word out this morning.”
After attending the walk-in at Sundance, Jenina Alvarez talked with school staff after she dropped off her daughter for classes.
“I support the teachers,” Alvarez said. “I know that they need more money for themselves and for our schools and in our classrooms.”
This walk-in is a good opportunity for parents to see how much support there is for the schools, said Michael Schoonover, a high school social studies teacher, as he held a sign that read “Invest in quality. Quality kids become quality workers.”
“I think we’re at a difficult point where not enough parents know what the issues are and why teachers care and it’s not just salaries obviously,” Schoonover said “The one thing we really want is to squash that myth that it’s only about salaries, because I think then a lot of people who are on the more extreme conservative side, they think we’re just whining about pay.”
Melissa Girmscheid, a physics teacher at Centennial, held a sign that read “Physics is essential for almost all STEM careers. I’m one of only 159 physics teachers left in Arizona.”
“I’m watching my profession shrink drastically just because people don’t get paid a lot and because of the funding issues,” Girmscheid said. “There are some schools cutting programs. If they can’t find a physics teacher, they just cut it.”
“I’m watching my colleagues leave, because it’s too easy to find a job in other states where they still have the funding for the classes, funding for labs that are updated and the things we need,” Girmscheid said. “I spend a lot of time at Home Depot on my own dime.”
Kate Hoffner, a guidance counselor at Centennial and mother of young children, said she’s concerned that so many teachers are leaving the profession.
“Teachers are leaving. They literally are walking out – great teachers, amazing teachers,” said Hoffner, an organizer for Arizona Educators United. “It’s sad and we cry every time and they go to other professions or they go to other states.”
Many teachers who leave the profession have gone into “real estate or something else where they can make more money with less pressure,” Hoffner said.
Slideshow: Teacher Walk-ins by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews