June 23, 2020

Yonkers FT rolls out to support passage of the HEROES Act

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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In the last assignment of the school year, all of the music teachers who were laid off in Yonkers asked students to respond to a statement: “Imagine Your Life Without Music.”

The students didn’t know their mentors were about to lose their jobs, but their answers were heartbreaking.

“Music is what makes us enjoy life … Life without music is not life at all,” said one.

“Life without music is like a morning without chirping, nights without earphones, traffic without horns, and dancing without beats,” wrote another. “It connects us to ourselves. Music completes us.”

Unfortunately, music is one of the first programs sacrificed as the city schools face nearly 170 job cuts including 44 teachers and 30 teaching assistants to deal with the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-six percent of the cuts are in music.

The Yonkers Federation of Teachers, led by Samantha Rosado-Ciriello, gathered educators, administrators, pols and labor leaders at Lincoln High School Tuesday to seek support for the federal HEROES Act, a new COVID-19 fiscal relief bill, which is held up in the U.S. Senate.

But no voice was more eloquent than the teachers facing layoff.

“All 707 of my students began learning instruments over the past year,” said Colette Hebert, who has raised funds and written grants to help fund keyboards, strings and band instruments for the kids to use. She said music is a crucial part of a child’s education.

“Music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities, including language-based reasoning, short-term memory and planning, all of which lead to improved academic performance,” she said. “Cutting this program is detrimental to their overall growth and learning experience.”

In Yonkers, 79 percent of the students come from low-income families. The city was severely affected by the pandemic, in terms of physical and mental health as well as the economy.

Erin Giacinto, another laid off teacher, said students need more support, not less structure, during this stressful, uncertain time. Music fills that void.

“Music education aids in students’ emotional development, builds imagination and intellectual curiosity as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” she said.

“Our students deserve music,” said Brian Doherty, another YFT member who got a layoff notice. “They deserve all of the benefits music has to offer. They deserve to be part of a school that can educate them socially and emotionally, as well as academically.”

YFT President Rosado-Ciriello said the HEROES Act can help prevent cuts in Yonkers.

“Our students need their teachers and TAs,” she said. “This would not be tolerated in any other district in Westchester, or in New York state, where 99 percent of budgets were approved by voters. This is a time for more support for schools and students, not less!”

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, and Senate Education Chair Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers, joined CSEA 9169 President Lionel Turner, city Mayor Mike Spano and school officials to ask everyone to thank our U.S. senators, who support the bill, and to reach out to friends and family in other states to urge support for the HEROES Act.

Here’s an action item from the American Federation of Teachers to contact senators and urge their support.

After the speeches, more than 100 supporters climbed into cars they had decorated with hand-painted signs and placards to caravan, with police escorts, around the city of Yonkers, urging residents to push for the bill in the Senate.

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