The collapse of the California budget did not come as a surprise to anyone living here. We’ve been seeing the “STOP!,” “ABYSS AHEAD,” and “WATCH OUT, BIG HOLE IN THE GROUND COMING UP” signs for a long time but like Wylie Coyote, chosen to ignore it and hope some magical anti-gravity device will pop up just in time. (For all those who chose to vote “No” or stay home during the recent special elections, a big BOO!!)
Still, when the news trickled out through the community gossip mills that the FUSD (Fremont Unified School District) was planning to eliminate science prep, computer prep and PE teachers for most schools, it came as a real shock to parents. Already overburdened classroom teachers would now have to shoulder the burden of managing the science lab and giving computer instruction. Teachers who had specialized in maintaining the science and computer labs for years would now be shuffled around to classroom duties or unceremoniously let go. A major upheaval was in the works and if all parents were not aware of it yet, September would bring a dash of cold water along with the frigid fall winds.
In the absence of any clear directive from the school authorities, rumors spread like wildfire in our small town. One school was so rich its PTA could finance the salary of the lost teachers. Another had bartered a PE teacher for a full time science prep teacher. PTA discussion groups started seeing heavy traffic as the predominantly Asian neighborhoods contemplated an unacceptable loss of science enrichment for their beloved children.
At our school the issue reached critical mass a couple of weeks ago. After a proposal to pay for our own science prep teacher was shot down by the board on the grounds of unfairness, the parent group decided to start a grassroots movement to restore science prep and retain our teacher (whose popularity attests not only to her sweet nature but the fun kids have in her lab.)
First we created an online petition to be signed by all parents asking for the school board to reconsider the cut. Many of us stood on the sidewalks outside school distributing flyers. When my 6 year-old handed out some flyers of her own, she was joined by her classmates, each eager to help.
The petition campaign was quite successful and we moved it to the next level. Yesterday, a group of over 80 parents and children waited over 3 hours to get a hearing in front of the school board during their monthly meeting. Impassioned speakers talked of the importance of science prep to their children’s lives, and one 5th grader begged that her sister, who is entering school this fall, have the same opportunities she did. We suggested creative solutions and one well-prepared parent worked out that a recent influx of stimulus money and some creative use of funds could save prep teachers for all schools and avoid the upheaval the FUSD’s actions would create.
Did our efforts work? No idea. But we gave it our best shot and the sight of so many committed parents and children taking three hours out of a weeknight to show their support has to have moved some minds on the board. At least we made it clear how important one particular issue was to us. I would not underestimate the power of activism.
And this is by no means the last of our efforts. Depending on the final allocation of resources, we will keep working and keep fighting to preserve what is, for us, a vital part of our children’s future.
And I’ll keep you updated. If you have had a similar experience with your school, do share.