A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood … for vigils, rallies, and speeches. Pittsburgh’s own Mr. Rogers was all about kids and learning, so he would probably have been happily singing his famous tune yesterday as people from across the state gathered on a beautiful spring day to protest budget cuts to public education.

Here in Pittsburgh, students had their last day of school with 285 teachers who received pink slips from the district. Over 170 people gathered last night for a candlelight vigil to honor those educators. Parents and children lit candles and held signs saying, “285” on one side and “Our kids need these teachers” or “Our city needs these jobs” on the other.

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National award winning poet Terrance Hayes spoke to the crowd saying, “I am adding my grievance to the list of grievances related to the state and the state of education.” Using a beautiful metaphor of teaching students like building poems, he explained he wants “a system that views its educators, its teachers as beings; as artists, not as machines.” (See the full text of his remarks, “At the Candlelight Vigil for Our Teachers.”)

Every major news outlet in the city covered the event, including channels 2, 4, and 11, the Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review! This was absolutely fantastic coverage and helps send a strong message to our legislators at a key moment in the final budget negotiations.

Let’s hope they were listening when Pittsburgh Colfax teacher Kaela Filipek, who actually attended that school and is now one of the 285 furloughed educators, told the media, “I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade, and now I’ll be out looking for another job.” She explained to reporters, “the fact that there could be 30 children in a classroom next year means the children will not have the same opportunities.” [Tribune Review, 6-14-12]

And perhaps the legislators were also paying attention to their front door yesterday, which was packed with demonstrators from across the state, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Reading, York, and Harrisburg. WTAE reported that, “Speaker after speaker aimed their wrath at the Republican governor as they bemoaned continuing furloughs of teachers and support staff, growing class sizes, and the elimination of tutoring, physical education, arts and other programs – possibly even kindergarten.” [WTAE TV, 6-13-12]

Bryan Sanguinito, one of the more than 300 teachers being laid off in the Reading school district asked, “Mr. Governor, the question is this: did you lie during your campaign to the voters of Pennsylvania, or did you turn your back on their children?” Kids tried leaving their drawings for Gov. Corbett outside the governor’s mansion, “But as soon as they clipped the poster boards to the bars, police officers came and cut them down.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 6-13-12] They also drew in chalk on the sidewalk outside the residence and wrote, “Help our schools!”

It’s time the governor and his allies in the legislature listened to these kids. Perhaps they can pause for a moment to hear the words of Tamar Kaminski, valedictorian of this year’s senior class at Pittsburgh’s Taylor Allderdice High School, who used her two minute graduation speech to talk about the impact of state budget cuts on education. She said we must stop portraying inner city public schools as failures: “Instead of undermining our public schools, we should strengthen and improve them, we should cherish and celebrate their achievements.” Wise words.

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