You couldn’t miss Gina Sartor participating in a Wednesday Walk-in at Walnut Creek Middle School in West Bloomfield. She was the one wearing a student-made plastic sculpture on her head that spouted red-and-gray curls like a water fountain.
Sartor was one of a couple dozen school employees who gathered on the sidewalk in front of the school in an early-morning show of solidarity – part of a statewide #WearRedForPublicEd campaign during Wednesdays in May.
“I’m out here to make a difference,” the 18-year design and technology teacher said.
Her headdress was part of a larger sculpture project created by her middle school students during a unit on plastics and their role in the waste stream. The sculpture was modeled after the ground-breaking work of glass artist Dale Chihuly using plastic gathered by students, she said.
“People need to understand that public education is where it’s at,” said French and World Languages teacher Lois Griffin, Walnut’s teacher of the year and the Walled Lake district’s middle school teacher of the year, who organized the Walnut walk-in. “We are professionals in our field. The majority of us have post-graduate degrees. We impact young people.”
One of Griffin’s students agreed. Eighth grader Nick Farriter stopped on his trek from the bus to the school entrance to lend his support to the walk-in. “Our schools should get better funding, because frankly our teachers do a lot. They shape our lives.”
Walnut Creek Principal Dr. Patrick Cavanaugh also joined the staff assembling in the parking lot and walking in together as a “sign of solidarity in all we do each day to help kids,” he said.
A similar walk-in at Walled Lake Western High School brought out school board member Christopher Titus, who said six straight years of cuts in the district show him the state’s school funding system is broken. The local businessman added that he’s heard bi-partisan concerns over school funding in the community.
“It’s imperative that our parents seek out candidates who are going to support public education and vote for them regardless of which side of the street they’re on,” he said.
In today’s “Labor Voices” column in The Detroit News, MEA President Paula Herbart elaborated on that point: “We can all be united in a desire to fix Michigan’s broken school funding system,” Herbart wrote. “Like our roads, our schools have deteriorated as a result of neglect and lack of proper funding.
“According to the recent Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative study, Michigan is underfunding an adequate education by as much as $1,959 per student, not including higher costs for special education, English language learners, career and technical education, and more.”
MEA Vice President Chandra Madafferi attended two of the Walled Lake events to thank school employees who keep showing up despite feeling “beaten down and undervalued.”
“I want you to be encouraged, because parents respect you,” Madafferi said. “I need all of you to be advocates in your own way, whether in your neighborhood group, or your bowling league, or your bunko group or sports teams. You’ve got to talk to people. We need to build up our profession.”
Jared DeWitt, WLEA treasurer, echoed Madafferi’s ideas during a walk-in at Loon Lake Elementary School in Wixom. The fourth grade teacher said wearing red and gathering outside the building to walk in together strengthened bonds among staff members.
“Our union has the positive power to stand together and support each other and support our students,” DeWitt said. “We need to make our voices heard in terms of really wanting the best for our kids.”