April 19, 2015

DAY THREE: 3 pairs of sneakers and a sunburn

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: Intrepid NYSUT editor Liza Frenette (left) joins intrepid (and inspirational!) teacher Maria DeAngelo on Route 9 in Malta Sunday. Photo provided.

Day three is getting long. Route 9 is stretching out long, mostly flat, with a steady uptick of traffic. The sun is steady and Maria DeAngelo has a sunburn on her arms below the short sleeve of her pink "Proud to be a teacher" T-shirt.

She's on her third pair of sneakers, these are orange and blue. They have small silver bells on them. One of her teaching colleagues back home in Saranac Lake told DeAngelo she would be going to the Capitol with bells on.

But her feet are really starting to hurt.

"I'm a little slower. My feet hurt. On the front, the ball of my foot" explained DeAngelo as we walked up Route 9, past the Malta Drive-in that just opened for spring. "Furious Seven" is playing.

Today is really where the rubber meets the road. I met up with this power walker-educator-advocate at about mile 125. One hundred twenty-five miles! Her goal: 150 miles. This is her Saranac Lake to Albany "Walk in Our Shoes" campaign to support public education and generate respect for teachers and funding for schools.

Her husband, Matt Paul, pulled up in his neon yellow jeep, her support vehicle.

"Ten more miles!" he announced.

"Whoo hoo,"she said. "That was beautiful."

Near Saratoga earlier today, DeAngelo was met by a rousing group of 40 people cheering her on, many of them from Queensbury. Twenty of them walked with her for awhile.

Some people who have joined her on this journey only met each other by following DeAngelo's walk online, posting information on Facebook and then gathering at designated locations to walk or cheer her on.

"I love that so many people are talking. Teachers are talking across districts. And that's what it should be: a dialogue of the stakeholders," she said. "The governor needs to come in on the conversation - with respect."

Several people donned orange safety vests and helped DeAngelo maneuver through the Byzantine highway rotaries along her route.

Yesterday's walk was more serene, with a lot of small towns and roadside streams just starting to flow. She walked alongside lakes. Today, the road from Warrensburg was flanked by trees, but eventually opened to four lanes and just a narrow shoulder to walk on.

"There've been a couple lonely stretches. I just put on my headphones." Her playlist was assembled by students and teachers especially for her trek.

As the air cooled and the sun started lowering, DeAngelo was met by a small cadre of walkers from the Shenendehowa School District in Clifton Park.

Fourth-grade teacher Marcy Philo said she came out "because of this amazing woman!" Her colleague, fifth-grade teacher Kathy Palmieri, added: "We stick together. We care about our kids. This is terrible what they are doing."

The injustices leveled at public education, if laid end to end, could fill 150 miles and then some.

As she came within two miles of her lodging in Clifton Park, Angelina, Anthony and Annabelle Corsetti stood on the roadside in their pajamas, cheering on DeAngelo with their mom, Wendy, and their dad, elementary teacher Damien Corsetti, who was walking with her.

DeAngelo's own daughter, Morgan, is back home in Saranac Lake with her grandparents, making a duct tape gown for the prom in order to enter a contest. DeAngelo, a former art teacher whose position was eliminated along with other losses at the school, led duct tape projects with students, including Morgan, for years.

Now DeAngelo teaches math. And these last three days have been all about counting: the injuries to public education and the miles to go before she sleeps.