“Everyone should be aware of their ability to enact change.”

How and why did these seven Maryland educator-activists help recruit 8,500 of their peers to the March for Our Schools?

How did MSEA get 8,500 members to Annapolis for the March for Our Schools? One word: ORGANIZING. Members studied the issues, attended skill-building trainings, held 10-minute meetings, educated colleagues in countless one-on-one meetings, made phone calls, texted co-workers, and wrote emails.

All that work led to the largest rally Annapolis has seen in nearly a decade — and the passage of landmark legislation to increase school funding. Meet just some of the hardworking educator activists and organizers of the March for Our Schools whose work made a difference for students and schools.

Mabrooka Chaudhury, Howard County

MABROOKA CHAUDHURY Atholton High School Howard County

For the past several years, the attacks on public education have really concerned me. That was the reason I became a building representative, joined the Government Relations Committee, and became a member lobbyist for the Howard County Education Association all in the same year. I had been following the Kirwan Commission for the past two years and was excited about their recent recommendations. For me it was a no-brainer to sign up as a GO Team volunteer and help support the efforts to organize the March for Our Schools.

What I learned about myself and my colleagues is that educators have a deep commitment to their students and their communities. We understand the power of education in transforming lives and when that case is made on a personal level, they will mobilize. My colleague Devin White and I spent days walking the entire building and speaking to all our friends. We listened and engaged individuals in thoughtful conversation regarding the state of education.

Bev Folkoff, Baltimore County

BEV FOLKOFF Relay Elementary School Baltimore County

The March for Our Schools was a wonderful experience for me. I feel that I’ve been training for an event this big since I joined the Teachers Association of Baltimore County Government Relations Committee and MSEA’s GO Team. I was part of a team that worked together to inform and organize educators, parents, and community members.

I used the skills I had practiced in GO Team trainings to reach out and make phone calls, give presentations, text, and have one-on-one conversations. The responses were amazing. Everyone understood that this was our time as educators and stakeholders to stand up for our students and for ourselves.

On the day of the rally, I got to see my hard work pay off. I was marching with thousands of people — many of whom I had contacted personally! We were all excited about the possibilities as we talked about how increased funding would create better environments for all our students. Seeing the success of this event reaffirmed for me the belief that when the members of our union pull together, anything is possible.

Cecilia Mitchell, Queen Anne’s County

CECILIA MITCHELL Grasonville Elementary School, Queen Anne’s County

When I was first asked to organize for the march, I was a little intimidated. But once I made my first pitch at a Queen Anne’s County Education Association rep meeting, I knew I could do it. The point that resonated the most with my colleagues was that we need to be our own advocates. No one is just going to give our schools what they deserve if we don’t insist.

Asking folks to give up an evening — when they had carpools or second jobs to attend to — felt like a lot to ask. But we had educators, students, and even a couple of principals travel together by bus to Annapolis — making for a record turnout from Queen Anne’s.

The idea that it was up to me to self-advocate was what served as my catalyst to get involved. It occurred to me that if I wasn’t willing to take action, I deserved what I didn’t get. I intend to get what I deserve — what we all deserve — by being an advocate, an activist, and a proud member of a union of dedicated professionals.

Pete Singleton, Dorchester County

PETE SINGLETON North Dorchester High School Dorchester County

I’m a union member of 46 years and I continue to believe that the more members you get involved, the stronger our union will be.

For this event, I learned to be more patient and more persistent in organizing and mobilizing our Dorchester Educators members. The support from our school reps and MSEA’s emails, flyers, webinars, posters, and phone calls kept everyone grounded and up to date. That our own Maple Elementary School Marching Band was participating in the march put a face on the event for many of our members. Some potential members who attended joined our local as soon as they got back to school!

They understand now that the union is the voice to make positive changes in our educational community. Dorchester Educators is organizing to bring more members out to our board of education and county commission meetings to tackle student behavior and local funding issues. The rally in Annapolis showed our members what happens when you get involved.

Kat Stevenson, Frederick County

KAT STEVENSON Middletown High School Frederick County

I was able to march in MSEA’s Fix the Fund rally last year and was really motivated by the event. I have worked with and met many people in the school system who feel like they don’t have a voice despite their knowledge and skill. The act of standing up as a part of a large group and demanding change was an experience I wanted to share with others.

I volunteered to help recruit members of our Frederick Association of School Support Employees to attend the rally. It was so exciting to connect with people one-on-one and empower them to stand up for their standard of living and the rights of our students. Everyone should be aware of their ability to enact change.

MSEA was able to mobilize and inspire so many of us to take action. The sight of over 8,500 people marching, ringing bells, and carrying posters was a proud moment for all of us. Knowing that I was able to encourage others to join in to share their voice continues to inspire me.

Jessica Tedder, Prince George’s County

JESSICA TEDDER Frances Fuchs Special Center, Prince George’s County

When I saw the information about the March for Our Schools I got excited. I have a daughter in a language immersion program and I have my classroom of three-year-olds with special needs. The county has already said that they don’t have the funds to cover the language program’s expansion which is very disappointing. Kids at my school don’t have an appropriate playground and we have 14 temporary classrooms for children ages 2–4. We are always pinching pennies. I saw that the Kirwan Commission could help.

Organizing the march was really a team effort that reminded me how much better we are when we all work together. Shout-outs to our Prince George’s County Educators’ Association building rep Meaghan Jenks and paraprofessional Sofiya Lukomsky who are both amazing partners.

I’m continuing to be a voice in our union by reminding colleagues to take action supporting the Kirwan recommendations and about the importance of contract negotiations. I plan to attend my first MSEA Convention so I can learn more about how to be an involved member of our union.

Dave West, Montgomery County

DAVE WEST Montgomery Blair High School Montgomery County

We had a GO Team meeting led by MSEA’s political team in January that underscored for us that the time was ripe for MSEA to organize its first major march in eight years. It was an opportunity for us to take our turn riding the red-for-ed wave, use our skills, and show off our t-shirts. I know this sounds hard to believe, but getting a GO Team t-shirt is motivating. I feel proud whenever I wear it.

MSEA also gave us bright red GO Team “organizer” jackets. February is too cold for a t-shirt, but perfect to wear a jacket over a button-down school dress shirt in a chilly school. This jacket was a major motivator for me. I wore it all over my building as I was organizing for the march.

Organizing for the march gave me an excuse to use my skills. We have over 200 Montgomery County Education Association members in my building and we’ve tried to systematically canvass them, but it’s a big job. Now I want to see if we can get more of our lead activists trained as organizers.

And where did these organizing stars get their skills?

When educators come together to fight for our students, our schools, and our profession — we win. We saw that during this legislative session. Because of our advocacy, the General Assembly passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

When we work together, we have real power. That’s why we’re continuing to organize Grassroots Organizing (GO) Teams of MSEA members who focus on local and statewide political, communications, and legislative campaigns. GO Team members get training for this important work and have access to association staff support, grants, and innovative campaign technologies.

We want to make sure all of our students get the resources they need. Join the GO Team and lead the change for public education in Maryland. Learn more and join today! Contact [email protected].