April 17, 2015

Maria DeAngelo, Day One: Comin' round the mountain

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: Maria and friends finish Day One. Photo by Randy Gunther (via Twitter).

"At mile 22 I started to get a little dizzy," said Saranac Lake teacher Maria DeAngelo on Day One of her "Walk in Our Shoes" 150-mile campaign. "The wind was dehydrating me."

DeAngelo had just passed through the Cascade Lakes, past the towering ski jumps outside of Lake Placid. Here, the road is precipitously narrow, windy and busy, pressed up hard against craggy cliffs and rocks on one side, and the lakes on the other.

Her husband, Matt Paul, circled back and brought her some water and drinks with electrolytes and salt.

"Going through the Cascades was nerve-wracking," she said. "There's no room there!"

With unalloyed determination, this seasoned power walker pressed on, the way you do when you lean into the hill a bit as you are ascending. Her journey today took her past many High Peaks- Mt. Marcy, Giant Mountain, Big Slide Mountain, along Route 73. The road is often crowded with cars parked on the shoulder as hikers head up trails and rock climbers head up cliffs.

Today, this single walker dwarfed them all. She left Saranac Lake at 10:40 this morning after teaching math class, and starting clocking miles at 12.08 and 12.35. "I started out a little fast," she said.

Her goal is to raise awareness of how New York public schools have lost $5.9 billion since the "temporary" Gap Elimination Act was passed; that students are forced to spend too much time and tension on mandated, developmentally inappropriate tests; and that too many programs and resources for students have been lost. She feels lawmakers have lost sight of the true goals and constitutional rights of public education. In her husband's vehicle are drawings that students made of sneakers, each highlighted by words describing what school means to them. DeAngelo will be delivering them to the Capitol on Monday morning.

So far, she is staying ahead of schedule on her walk. "Hopefully, I won't be in the dark," she said while walking through Keene Valley about 4:30. This leg of the trip took her past the east branch of the AuSable River, which is shallow in this part of its journey, and the grassy airfield outside Keene, where farmers markets and gatherings are held. Occasionally, small planes are landed there.

Her plan is to stop near the entrance to I-87, where her husband will take her to lodging. Tomorrow morning, she will begin at the same location as her ending tonight.

Her daughter, Morgan Paul, walked a mile with her this morning before she had to head back to high school. DeAngleo's colleagues back at Petrova Middle School had cheered her on in the hall before leaving. They wore matching yellow shirts with DeAngelo's own design of a sneaker with wings.

Some of her long walk today has been alone, and some has been shared with colleagues.

Teacher Amy Jones finished her classes in Saranac Lake today, and then drove until she found DeAngelo. She and colleague Beth Whalen got out and walked five miles with her.

"I'm here to support my colleague. We need to refocus on students and their education," said Jones, adding that the cause belongs to all of us.

Keene music teacher Lynn Dewalt and eight colleagues from the tiny Keene Central School Teachers Association joined DeAngelo at the bottom of Spruce Hill and logged five miles with her into Keene Valley. They held signs saying, "Support the walk!"

"It's about 60 degrees right now. It's a great day and a great idea," Dewalt said. Talking a bit breathlessly on his mobile phone, he added, "She sets a great pace!"

Dewalt has been a teacher for 16 years, and said if he had to teach to a test in music it would stifle creativity.

"I have performance groups. They're in a group to learn how to sing. How can you put that in a test?" he asked.

Joining DeAngelo on the walk is a good way to support the quest to stop the over testing in schools. "This was a good way for us to show our feelings without putting students in between," he said.

DeAngelo can be spotted the rest of today on Route 73 in her pink and purple cropped leggings and a pink hat. She has a very long stride.

And clearly, a very long reach.

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 Maria gets a spirited sendoff Friday morning from her Saranac Lake Teachers Association colleagues and principal Bruce VanWeelden. Photo by Karen Miemes.