30 State $5 Million “Back To School For All” Initiative Launched By AFT

AFT President Randi Weingarten will travel the length and breadth of the country this month to encourage students and staff to r
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Photos: AFT

NATIONWIDE—AFT President Randi Weingarten will travel the length and breadth of the country this month to encourage students and staff to return to full-time, in-person school by helping educators and families create safe and welcoming learning environments where kids can recover and thrive.

Working shoulder-to-shoulder with parents, administrators and communities, the $5 million “Back to School for All” tour is championing a return to five-days-a-week, bricks-and-mortar instruction, after 18 months of unprecedented turmoil and a changing virus demonstrated by the troubling surge in the Delta variant.

The 1.7 million member AFT has invested heavily in the nationwide push, impacting over 1,800 locals, with everything from door-to-door canvassing, support for vaccine clinics, town halls, book fairs and other grass-roots efforts. The initiatives, working in tandem with resources and support from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, are intended to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of all students, regardless of geography or demography.

Weingarten said: “This year, our back-to-school campaign will be back to school for ALL. We know students learn best in person from their trusted, highly qualified educators—from teachers and nurses, to guidance counselors, paraprofessionals and bus drivers—who will use every tool at their disposal to enhance teaching and learning by creating joyous, safe and welcoming environments via a panoply of academic offerings, wraparound services and other social-emotional supports.

“Schools are critical for our kids’ recovery, and this moment is an opportunity to fund our future fully and equitably, to create public schools where educators want to teach, parents want to send their kids, and kids can learn.”

The importance of vaccines and other mitigation measures remains crucial as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in many states, said Weingarten: “We’ve been thrown a curveball with the Delta variant’s transmissibility, particularly in unvaccinated communities, meaning we need to exercise caution and continue with mitigation strategies: masking, ventilation, testing and, of course, the promotion of vaccines—the single most effective tool we have.”

AFT locals, from coast to coast and points in between, are participating in the push—including higher education locals who are preparing for thousands of students to return to campus and amid complex health and safety protocols.

The national union will operate “office hours” and clinics—designated times when affiliates and others can call in to discuss ideas and get technical support. And Share My Lesson, the AFT’s lesson planning resource, will be a clearinghouse for best practices. But the most meaningful part of this campaign is how members, staff and volunteers are connecting with families to rebuild relationships and trust eroded by a once-in-a-century pandemic.

“From reading to civics to science, we’re continuing to put our schools at the center of our communities, and we’ll engage the entire school family in creating environments where everyone feels safe and welcome, and where students make connections and experience the joy and hope of learning,” Weingarten said.

Among the 60 funded projects:

In Rio Rancho, N.M., the union and district are collaborating on a back-to-school program that includes phone banking, billboards and flyers—both online and on doorsteps. The message is: Schools will be 100 percent open, and they are clean and have good ventilation.

In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union is expanding its summer organizing campaign to increase vaccination rates, promote social-emotional school resources and amp up pressure to invest American Rescue Plan money in students and families. CTU is engaging members to work with families whose students had low or no attendance last year and problem-solve obstacles for families to return to school full time.

In Scranton, Pa., educators will be holding community block parties around the city to greet students before schools start. There will be free books for kids (through First Book) to celebrate the importance of literacy, face painting and other activities.

In New York state, United University Professions, representing faculty and professional staff in the State University of New York system, is assisting members with the return to campus through one-on-one conversations, social media vaccination campaigns, health and safety trainings, information tables and open mic regional meetings. New York State United Teachers will campaign to highlight members’ commitment to the educational and emotional needs of students to underline students learn best in the classroom, that remote is not a substitute, and that members are ready and enthusiastic about returning.

In Peoria, Ill., the local is canvassing with the district to provide a list of at-risk students and families to knock on doors and talk to families about the importance of returning in-person in the fall.

In Anderson, Ind., the local, working with the district, is reaching out to locate students who left the district’s schools but still reside there, to bring them back into the fold.

In Florida, the Florida Education Association is persuading families that public schools are the best place for kids to learn and grow. They will engage members and potential members through digital education campaigns, member vaccination events and book give-a-ways in underserved areas across several counties.

In Massachusetts, members will canvas some of the hardest-hit communities, including Boston, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford and Springfield. They will participate in back-to-school fairs and knock on doors with information emphasizing the importance of vaccination.

In Louisiana, locals across the state are focused on vaccination and making sure students and families have what they need to return to school, recover and succeed. Calcasieu Parish, Jefferson Parish and almost a dozen smaller locals will conduct vaccination clinics and learning sessions about how to be safe during in-person learning.

In Texas, locals are partnering with the community to call and knock on doors of students who fell off the rolls or reside in hard-hit neighborhoods. By the time school starts, members will have called or visited several thousand families in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the Valley.

“Back to school for All” dates (subject to change)

 Monday, Aug. 2: Latham, N.Y.

Tuesday, Aug. 3: Bozeman, Mont. and Tuscaloosa, Fla. (AFT Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram)

Wednesday, Aug. 4: Bessemer, AL (AFT Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram)

Thursday, Aug. 5: Rio Rancho, N.M.

Saturday, Aug. 7: St. Louis

Wednesday, Aug. 11: Perth Amboy, N.J.

Thursday, Aug. 12: Cincinnati

Friday, Aug. 13: Anderson, Ind.

Saturday, Aug. 14: Chicago

Thursday, Aug. 19, and Friday, Aug. 20: Puerto Rico

Saturday, Aug. 21: Cleveland

Wednesday, Aug. 25: Houston T

hursday, Aug. 26: Charleston, W.Va.

Monday, Aug. 30: Lynn and Lawrence, Mass.

 

Follow AFT President Randi Weingarten: http://twitter.com/rweingarten

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