April 18, 2015

DAY TWO: Winding her way to Warrensburg

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: Maria DeAngelo leads the way for just a few of the many supporting her trek today. Photo by Brenden Gotham (via Twitter).

"Wooo hoooo. Only eight miles to Warrensburg!" shouted Saranac Lake teacher Maria DeAngelo into the phone just after 5 p.m. today. She is on day two of her "Walk in Our Shoes" campaign, and she's on her second pair of sneakers.

Teachers keep popping up on the roadside to join her long trek.

"We've had teachers all over the place!" she said. Few can match the pace of this seasoned half-marathon walker. She is fast. She is walking with a purpose.

"They couldn't keep up with her!" said her husband, Matt Paul, who is driving her support vehicle.

"Forty miles down today. Only eight left!" DeAngelo bellowed, without the slightest trace of breathlessness.

Today she powered through North Hudson, Chestertown, Schroon Lake (home to a 9-mile-long lake and about 1,600 hearty year-round souls) and the petite town of Pottersville. As she walked, she has been greeted by members of local teacher unions holding signs of support along the forested roadsides and through the small towns.

Three soccer players from Saranac Lake, who were at a tournament in Queensbury, took a detour en route home and came and walked with her. Middle school principal Bruce Van Weelden logged a lot of miles with her today. And her teaching colleagues joined her in different groups, beginning at 7:05 this morning when she began her walk at the intersection of Route 9 and the I87 Northway.

"I walk in the mountains, but not so much like Maria does!" said special education teaching assistant Pam Maly, a member of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association, who joined her late in the day. Asked how fast DeAngelo walks, Maly answered: "Very! Maybe we should've waited until tomorrow. Maybe she'll be a little slower."

DeAngelo chuckled in the background.

Christina Grant, Saranac Lake special education teacher, had just started walking alongside DeAngelo and said she'd go a couple more miles with her.

DeAngelo said the support today for teachers and students has been fabulous.

"Even when I stop at a gas station to use the restroom, I hear about support for kids," she said.

That is why she's walking 150 miles from Saranac Lake to Albany: to show that students need to be respected again, as do teachers. The state needs to stop its pressing test demands, unfunded mandates, and inadequate funding for schools; $5.9 billion has been lost in New York since Gap Elimination Act was enacted as a "temporary" aid to help the state through fiscal distress. Every school has lost at least some of the following: social workers, art teachers, music programs, business programs, librarians, language programs, Advanced Placement classes, after-school programs and electives. Blaming students for being unable to pass tests beyond their developmental abilities and blaming teachers for those failures needs to stop.

Fortunately, the rain forecast for today did not materialize and husband Paul said the clouds had cleared. Instead, he said "I got a text (from her) to go find some sun screen!" So off he went.

At 5:00, he was waiting at a designated spot to five her water, snacks and support.

"She's been nailing 15-minute miles the whole way today," he said.

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"I found Maria just north of Warrensburg on Route 9 South, cruising along, and with a smile on her face," said NYSUT Board member Don Carlisto (pictured above). "She told me her leg had cramped a bit today, but you'd never know it. My last glimpse of her was walking into the town of Warrensburg, flanked by two of our Saranac Lake Teachers Association members who made the trip from Saranac Lake for support. I'm a proud Co-President, SLTA and NYSUT member tonight!"

On Friday - the start of the journey - she walked 38 miles, and today will end with a big bang of 48 miles.

DeAngelo will be walking again tomorrow, kicking off at on Route 9 at 7 a.m., until she reaches Clifton Park. She will walk on Monday from there to the Capitol.

In the support vehicle are piles of student drawings of sneakers, colored to support the "Walk in Our Shoes" campaign.

Maybe state lawmakers didn't hear well enough the loud cries and chants calling for change and respect at the forums and rallies held in every part of New York for two months, many of them taking place outdoors in bitter cold weather. But maybe, just maybe, they'll hear the soft tread of DeAngelo's sneakers on the road as she comes to meet them this spring with gusts of determination at her back.

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