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Elina Asensio, 12, goes to Northridge Elementary School in Highlands Ranch. On April 26, she stood in front of the state Capitol as she talked about her teachers.
They inspire her, she said. They support her. They help her.
“I think my teachers deserve more,” Asensio said. “We go to school almost every day to learn and our teachers do the best they can to teach us, but some of them have to have a second job to afford having a life here.”
Asensio and hundreds of educators and community members rallied at the Capitol that morning to call for additional funding for public schools. Nationally, Colorado ranks 31st in teacher pay, with an average salary of $51,808, according to a report recently released by the National Education Association for 2017.
Wearing red for education, about 400 teachers and dozens of residents from Douglas County attended.
Hundreds more were from Jefferson County Public Schools. Both districts canceled school in light of the event. The weekend before, Douglas County School District interim Superintendent Erin Kane announced in an email to parents that schools would be closed because there would not be enough substitute teachers to cover classrooms.
Other districts across the Denver metro area were scheduled to be closed the following day, as teachers planned to attend a similar rally.
The impassioned crowd started on the steps of the iconic building in downtown Denver, where they shouted a series of chants — “Fund our schools,” they yelled. “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”
Over a megaphone, gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy called for action. Kennedy has been endorsed by the Colorado Education Association, the state teachers' union.
“We need to give you the retirement security you have earned,” she said. “I know you are here for the students. We need to give you the resources so you can support your kids.”
Reasons for participating in the rally differed.
Kerri Nyhof, a fifth-grade teacher at Franktown Elementary School, wants more funding for school psychologists and staff. She wants to see smaller class sizes — this year, she has 25 students in one class.
She attended the rally because education is important to her, she said.
"I think education is the foundation of our society," Nyhof said. "Education is what gives all people a chance to be successful at life."
Sue Catterall recalled when her two kids graduated from schools in the Douglas County School District several years ago. They both received IB diplomas, she said, adding that they had “great teachers and amazing administrators.” Catterall wants to see more funding for schools.
At the rally, she was collecting signatures for Great Schools, Thriving Communities, a ballot initiative that would increase funding for public schools across the state through a “Quality Public Education Fund,” financed from higher taxes on some citizens and businesses.
“The kids today won't have the same experience my kids had if we don't fix this,” Catterall said, tears welling in her eyes. “I think it's important for our entire community to have a well-educated populace.”
Tim Krug, joined by his two young sons who go to Franktown Elementary, was at the rally to support teachers. He wants to see higher salaries, more vocational programs and better special education.
“I really don't like to miss a chance of supporting our teachers,” said Krug, who is running for the state board of education for the 4th Congressional District.
Kallie Leyba, president of the Douglas County Federation, the local teachers' union, was thrilled with the turnout. She and other members of the organization spent days and evenings prior to the event making more than 400 shirts, each stamped with “DCF” and a small heart in red, and creating elaborate posters. She was disappointed with the weather, which with temperatures in the 40s in the morning, forced many to bundle up in sweatshirts and jackets.
“It's pretty powerful, pretty amazing,” said Leyba. “Our teachers are mobilized, energized and ready to take action.”
Many teachers and community members hope the rally catches the attention of legislators and brings awareness to the need for more funding for public schools.
Karin Asensio, a parent of three, including 12-year-old Elina, said students are “packed like sardines” in classrooms at Northridge Elementary. Her son's fourth-grade class has 33 kids. Her 7-year-old daughter's class has 28.
“It should not be partisan, it should be everyone agrees that education matters,” Asensio said. “Our kids are our future and they matter.”
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