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On Thursday, San Francisco public school students as young as 5 will get a real-life learning experience about civic engagement — through protest.
Students from kindergarten through college plan to convene at Market and Powell streets in the late afternoon to protest cuts to public education during a coordinated political action called the Rally for California’s Future.
Several schools were planning to have students create picket signs in school. Maria Lourdes Nocedal, a third-grade teacher at Sheridan Elementary School said Wednesday that students sat in the parent room at Sheridan making signs and banners.
“Our big slogan,” she said, “is ‘save our students, save our teachers, save our schools, save our future.’”
The Ingleside school is one of several in southeastern San Francisco whose students are hoping to cut the day short to become after-school activists. They plan to convene at 3:15 p.m. at 24th and Mission streets for a head start on the 5 p.m. rally. Rally organizer and parent Rachel Lederman said that about 30 schools are participating in this feeder march, which will convene with other marches at its destination downtown.
Many students intending to begin the protest early were initially going to do so as a school-organized field trip, with fellow students and teachers, until the superintendent’s office issued a memo Friday banning field trips to the march, citing of safety concerns.
“The notice came out on the 26th, very late in the organizing, and since then we have had a lot more families come on board to be part of the march,” said Adrienne Johnstone, a teacher at San Francisco Community School. She said many families were “coming to take their kids out of school early.”
Johnstone, who has worked for the district for 10 years, called the memo “ridiculous,” adding, “We’re not going to take our lead from him on protesting the cuts that he’s administering,” she said, referring to Carlos Garcia, the superintendent of schools. Representatives of the school district did not respond to calls for comment Wednesday.
Even before the planning started on this protest, teachers said they used the budget crisis to teach students in various subjects, from social studies to math.
“A lot of teacher have adapted the budget crisis into their curriculum,” said Matthew Hardy, director of communications for United Educators San Francisco, the teachers’ union. “For math classes you can do the budget numbers. In history classes you can learn how people have stood up to these types of things before. It’s applicable for all different subject areas.”
In the past week, Hardy said that he and others activists distributed more than 3,000 signs to schools for kids to design for the rally.
Students from Bay Area universities, such as San Francisco State, Cal State East Bay, UC Berkeley and San Jose State are planning to converge on the city to protest the cuts too, said Brigitte Davila, an organizer from San Francisco State who has been making preparations with elementary and secondary students.
“It’s at 5 p.m., so students are out of school, teachers are out of school,” Davila said. “Normally we don’t have rallies at 5 o’clock in the evening.”
San Francisco public schools, which are facing a $113 million cut in state spending, are expecting an outpouring of students showing their support. Cutbacks mean not only larger classes and fewer teachers, but also less of classroom essentials.
“We have to ask parents for supplies, like copy paper,” said Nocedal, the Sheridan Elementary parent. “And next year it’s going to be worse.”
Adrienne Johnstone (center, wearing a green shirt), along with students, led the march down Mission Street Thursday.
Teachers and staff at Lakeshore Elementary were preparing to rally against education cuts Thursday. Across the city, schools and parents were making plans to attend a downtown protest with children, even if the school district said they could not make the day a field trip. Photo courtesy of United Educators of San Francisco.
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