COMMUNITY VOICES | MN Teacher of the Year: Why I'm walking in the snow for St. Paul students

I’m going to be walking through the snow before dawn. I’m walking because I know for a fact that even with the best teacher, a kid gets a better education in a smaller class. (Photo credit: CC/Flickr/Andrei Niemimäki)

I’m a teacher, and I’m also a parent. This morning I will be walking in the cold with fellow St. Paul educators and parents across the city. We are going to walk to ask the St. Paul Board of Education to settle a contract, which makes real progress on issues that parents care about, including lowering class sizes and increasing access to preschool. We educators are not on strike – yet – but we need the board to know that our kids can’t wait any longer for our contract issues to be addressed.

These are professional issues for me, but they are also personal. For the last two years, my husband and I have been making do with a little bit less so that we can afford a great preschool for our son. We never feel worry or stress when we drop him off, knowing that he benefits from a class size of seven. His teachers give him all the attention and care he needs, making sure he gains the skills he’ll need to be successful in elementary school and beyond.

We did start to feel some worry and stress this fall when we started touring kindergartens. Our son will go to kindergarten in St. Paul Public Schools, and we are excited for him to benefit from the expertise and passion of St. Paul’s devoted teachers, but I can’t pretend we weren’t taken aback when we saw classes of 25, 27 or even 29 5-year-olds with only one teacher.

Small class, better education

I’m going to be walking through the snow before dawn. I’m walking because I know for a fact that even with the best teacher, a kid gets a better education in a smaller class. I know it in my head from my 12 years as a science teacher. I know it in my heart as a mother. Smaller classes are safer, calmer, more focused and more kid-centered. In a smaller class, my child will be more engaged and better cared for. As a result, he’ll be more successful.

I’m going to walk through the snow because I believe every young child deserves a spot in a PreK classroom. It’s been a bit of a pinch for our family to pay for private preschool, but we can do it. Many families can’t. Right now, there are 700 kids waiting to get into public preschool in St. Paul. Most of the middle-school and high-school students I teach didn’t get to go to preschool. They started kindergarten behind kids from families with the means to pay for PreK, and some of them are still working to catch up. Ability to pay shouldn’t determine which St. Paul kids get preschool. I want all the kids in my home city, from every walk of life, to start their education right, with the best possible chance of success. And that means access to PreK for all.

Right: Megan Olivia Hall

Bring back nurses, librarians ...

I’m walking through the snow because I want to bring back all the professionals who have meaningful impacts on kids’ lives, but whose work is not directly reflected in test scores. I want to teach in a district with nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors in all our schools. I want my son to get the help he needs when he needs it, and I want his classmates to be just as well cared for.

If you’re a parent in St. Paul, and you believe in smaller classes, access to PreK for all, and better staffing, join me as I walk. If you can’t make it to your child’s school in the early-morning hours, contact your school board members and encourage them to settle the teacher contract in a way that benefits students.

A pivotal moment

Will this cost more? Yes, but thanks to the victories of the previous Legislature and the levy support of St. Paul voters, our school district has $47.6 in unrestricted funds to meet the critical needs of our students.

I’m a dedicated teacher and a dedicated mother. I love my son and I love my students. Every day, I see the problems faced by public education, and every day, I look for solutions. St. Paul is at a pivotal moment. We have hope for real and lasting change. Join St. Paul’s teachers as we walk in a cold, snowy morning to give St. Paul kids the schools they deserve.

Megan Olivia Hall is the 2013 Minnesota Teacher of the Year and a science teacher at the Open World Learning Community school in St. Paul.

This article was first published in MinnPost.

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