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President's Perspective

What our kids need

New York Teacher
Michael Mulgrew
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

UFT President Michael Mulgrew discusses the revised school opening agreement at City Hall on Sept. 17.

As the school year comes to a close, I want to thank all of you for doing your part during this extraordinary time. Whether working remotely or in the classroom, you made sure teaching and learning continued in New York City. In carrying out your important work, you also provided some much-needed routine and stability in the lives of our students.

Next school year, we take on a new challenge. “Back to school” has never been more meaningful than it will be on Sept. 13 when school buildings reopen for all students, and we return to the normal DOE-UFT contract. We are not returning as the same educators. We have learned things during this pandemic about teaching and learning and our children’s lives that we will bring back to the classroom. Our students will not be the same either. Many lost loved ones to COVID; others saw their family finances collapse. Homelessness continues to rise. And the isolation of these past 16 months has taken a heavy toll on everyone. Remote learning is challenging, and it has been tough for our students to stay engaged and focused. Deprived of in-person activities, many of our students began spending an inordinate amount of time online. Those new habits will be hard to break and could have an impact on their social or emotional development.

We started the #OurKidsNeed campaign to keep the needs of our kids front and center as the Department of Education makes plans for September. For the first time in decades, we have the federal funding to make meaningful, lasting changes for our schools and students. We have already accomplished much of our Five-Point Recovery Plan, but we still need the mayor and the City Council to earmark funding in the city budget for the most important pieces — smaller class sizes and intervention teams in every school.

We have long fought for smaller class sizes so we can give our students the individualized attention they deserve. We are asking the mayor and the City Council to allocate funding in the final city budget to reduce class size by as much as one-third, starting in our neediest schools.

Our students also need help coping emotionally and psychologically with the fallout of this pandemic. That is why we are pushing the city to create teams of academic intervention specialists and social workers and psychologists in every school. These teams could provide pullout programs for children needing additional instruction, professional collaboration with teachers on instruction and coping strategies, and individual and group therapy for at-risk students.

As always, your voice is crucial to getting the message out about what our kids need to succeed.

Rebuilding and strengthening the bonds of our school community, classroom by classroom, will be one of the most important tasks we take on in September. We need to continue encouraging our parents of remote learners to visit their children’s schools over the summer to build confidence in the safety protocols we have in place but also to rebuild the school community that was fractured over the last year.

I hope you will take a much-needed rest over the summer break. And return refreshed for the work ahead. See you in September.