South teacher advocates for education
This article is part of a series on teachers spending time in the summer to enrich their knowledge for the benefit of their students.
Many teachers in Grosse Pointe commit time in the summer to attending workshops and conferences to advance their knowledge in their particular subject areas. Jacqueline Shelson, a math teacher at Grosse Pointe South High School, has dedicated time during the school year and summer to a more general cause — serving as an advocate for education.
As the elected Representative Assembly delegate for the Grosse Pointe Education Assoc-iation, Shelson attended her fifth National Education Association Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly June 30 to July 6, held this year in Boston. She has attended the national conference each summer except the year her second son was born. Previous years she traveled to Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Denver to participate.
During the school year, the 11-year South veteran attends local, regional and state meetings, bringing back what she learned on trends and issues to colleagues in the district.
“I come from a family of teachers — my grandma, my aunts, my mom, my dad,” Shelson said. “I’ve always been really involved with education. My mom was really big into the union when she was a teacher and I feel with all this stuff going on with education, being involved in this at the state and national level I can help more. Being a part of such a large group and organization has more of an impact. Obviously in the last five years or so, education has been at the forefront of the legislators’ crazy laws and has put teachers on the chopping block all the time. This is more of a politically charged organization and that is how you change legislation. You put the right people in position. I am really passionate about that.”
The Representative Assembly — the primary legislative and policymaking body of the NEA and largest democratic deliberative assembly in the world — consists of roughly 8,000 delegates representing state and local affiliates. These delegates are elected by their local and state associations and represent pre-K to 12 and college educators, including education support professionals, student members, retired members and other segments of the education profession.
The more than 7,000 delegates present at the Boston Convention & Exhibit Center proposed, debated and took action on new business items for the association. Over the four days, delegates voted on 159 new business items, Shelson said.
According to the NEA website, the focus of the 2017 RA assembly was on fighting for public education.
“The main concerns revolved around making sure every student gets the best education they can and the public schools are supported, with the legislation going through helping (students) rather than hurting (them),” Shelson said. “Even though we’re supposed to be professionals in our field, we’re not always listened to all the time. Since the NEA is the largest educational organization in the United States, we have a lot more power in our organization to make change.”
Speakers included NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee and LaVar Burton, host and executive producer of the PBS children’s television series, “Reading Rainbow,” and a strong advocate for literacy. Burton was honored as NEA’s 2017 Friend of Education.
“I grew up with “Reading Rainbow” and it was really interesting to hear (Burton’s) story,” Shelson said. “All the things he did to make reading exciting. It was a little nostalgic.”
Legislative action steps recommended during the assembly included fighting budget cuts from the Department of Education; opposing private school vouchers; supporting special education and telling Congress to protect undocumented children. Delegates also approved a new policy statement opposing charter schools that do not meet state or federal criteria, according to the website.
At the state level, the Michigan delegation raised more than $70,000 for a PAC fund to go toward political action, helping to get “the right people in office” to advance a pro-public education agenda, Shelson said.
Shelson noted a feeling of camaraderie among attendees and sense “we’re all in this together.
“They use this phrase ‘union strong,’” she said. “I wish everyone could experience it. Being around all those people and knowing you really are trying to make a difference gives you a little shot of adrenaline.”