A March for Preschool
Teachers, parents, and kids in California protest cuts to school budget
Whistles were blowing, colorful flags were waving, and marchers chanted as they made their way down the sidewalks of California Avenue and Otis Street in South Gate, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Cars blew their horns as they passed.
This was the scene in front of South Gate City Hall on Friday afternoon. Parents, teachers, and kids gathered and walked together to protest budget cuts made by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). One of the deepest cuts was the Board of Education decision to close all 388 preschool classes in the district. This leaves about 13,968 students without a preschool in the next school year.
"If we cut preschool, we will pay for it later because people would not have learned to be peaceful citizens," said Constantine Haramis, a fifth-grade teacher. "I feel that the LAUSD could cut almost all jobs at the district level, and that wouldn't affect the classrooms [as much ] as cutting instructional programs."
If the cuts remain, the School Readiness Development and Language Program (SRDLP) would be the only way for young children to have access to early education. SRDLP is an oral language program aimed to prepare students for kindergarten. It provides four-year-old students the opportunity to increase their ability to listen, to speak well, to use their vocabulary appropriately, and to develop academic readiness skills.
The protest walk began with a short speech from the organizer of the walk, Silvia Leon, and the former South Gate mayor and councilwoman Maria Davila. After the speech, the participants got out their flags, banners, and musical instruments and walked on California Avenue, then crossed the street to Otis Street.
On the corner of California and Otis, the walkers began chanting: "Preschool, preschool, we want preschool" and "Parents, united, will never be divided." The walkers chanted in both English and Spanish for nearly 10 minutes before heading back to city hall for refreshments.
The purpose of the walk was to raise public awareness about the importance of preschool, said Silvia Leon, walk organizer. Leon is also a preschool teacher.
"My goal is to have more media exposure so the Board of Education superintendents would say that we, parents and teachers, want the program fully reinstated as it has been for the last 30 years," Leon said.
Among the walkers were teachers who said eliminating preschool would be very harmful to kids.
"I know how important it is for children to be prepared academically," Eunice Castaneda, a retired elementary and middle school teacher said. "So when they get to first grade, they will have a head start, not fall behind, as it would be hard for them to catch up."
The parents who were part of the walk said they stood together with their kids' teachers.
"I am here to support my daughter's teacher and her learning since preschool is a step into the future," Lorena Ortiz, a parent of a preschooler, said.
Leon added: "No one thinks of eliminating 11th grade because it doesn't make sense. Getting rid of the foundational preschool doesn't make sense either."
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