Stacy Bradley, Co-President
George Junior Republic Teachers Association
1. Throughout the pandemic, you and your colleagues at Special Act School Districts around the state have gone above and beyond to serve your students. Tell us about that.
We serve about 190 at-risk students who live on campus and come from 53 counties across the state. George Junior has continued to be a safe haven for students because of the perseverance, care and commitment of the educators and staff. While traditional public schools have closed, our educators have continued reporting for duty in person to care for our at-risk students, many of whom are neglected or abused minors and juveniles with a history of delinquency. We’ve juggled those responsibilities with providing a remote education for about 30 local day-school students.
2. Why didn’t you shut down along with the other schools?
Sending residential students home to learn by themselves on a laptop wasn’t an option. We moved our entire operation from our classrooms to our students’ living areas because it was absolutely essential to ensure there were no gaps in learning. More than that, we knew there couldn’t be gaps in the care and love these students need to feel from the adults they rely on. Our members worked quickly to create a safe-learning environment that has helped students navigate the trauma they have experienced and the anxieties that come with learning during this public health crisis.
3. What kind of support did you provide?
Our staff became their counselors, parents and a support system — and we did the same for each other, leaning on our colleagues for support with both instructional and emotional challenges. On site, it wasn’t just subject-area teachers who reported for duty. Our reading specialists, speech therapists, physical education teachers and our culinary arts teacher pitched in to make sure math, science and other subjects were being taught in the residential cottages where students live. It had to be all hands on deck to keep our school going for these children who went six months with nothing more than a weekly Zoom call with their families as support.
4. What about local students?
Off site, our dayschool teachers were calling home, contacting social service agencies and families, and in some cases scouring local towns to locate and support students dealing with homelessness. When crisis struck, our members have been nothing short of heroic, creating a safe, supportive space for children who need it most.
5. What has been the union’s role?
We’ve pushed to address health and safety concerns, ensuring proper protocols are in place to keep students and staff safe.
We are constantly advocating for more funding for programming and to raise salaries for educators who are paid dramatically less than other public school staff. In a pandemic that has highlighted inequities in education and beyond, we are yet again seeing the disparities that exist for our Special Act Schools. The state is in a precarious financial situation, but we can’t allow that to disproportionately affect schools that serve students with the highest needs.
These students need adults to do the right thing and provide them with every resource possible to succeed.