Meet the 2016 NEA Political Activist of the Year finalists!

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By Margaret O’Meara and Devon Westray

Meet the six finalists for the 2016 NEA Political Activist of the Year award! The finalists were chosen based on the amount and quality of political activism they’ve undertaken in the past year. Delegates at this year’s NEA Representative Assembly, being held next week in Washington, D.C., will choose the Political Activist of the Year. The finalists are the cream of the crop, leading the way in election campaigns and legislative advocacy efforts through actions such as sending letters and emails to elected officials, calling fellow members, and knocking on doors to speak up for their students and public education.

Click on each finalist’s name to find out more about these inspiring educator-activists.

Jason Fahie, Maryland

Jana Lewis, Colorado

Nidia Lias, Arizona

Kristi Miyamae, Hawaii

Roberta Rosheim, Iowa

Kaileigh Schippa, Michigan

 

Jason Fahie, Maryland

Fahie_cropJason Fahie is a health and physical education teacher in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County School District. In his 12 years as an educator, he has served as a building rep and local officer, and he has advocated for his students on school funding, testing, and electoral campaigns.

 

What inspired you to become an educator?

The way I saw it was, what better thing could I do with my life than be a teacher?

 

What was the first issue or electoral campaign you were involved in?

Several years ago, my local endorsed a candidate in a county executive election. I volunteered for phone banking and door knocking. It was a great opportunity to unite with my colleagues in support of a candidate—and I even got myself in the newspaper!

 

What is the most recent activism you’ve taken part in?

We just started a campaign a few months ago called “Raise Anne Arundel.” So far we’ve  focused on getting people to budget hearing meetings through  phone calls and a texting app.

 

Why is it important for educators to be politically involved?

Education is political—there is no way around it. We elect the people who have a say in how much money goes to our school district, or if we will get a raise. I’m 33, and trying to get my peers to see what the older generation knows: Whether or not you like politics, educators must stand up and be heard.

 

GeorgeJohnsonCampaign_crop2What was the most meaningful moment during your political activity this past year?

During our Raise Anne Arundel Campaign we had hundreds of members come out and hold signs and we filled the auditorium for our budget hearing. It seems that we’re starting a wave of activism in our county.

 

If you could bring anyone with you to an education rally, who would it be and why?

My mom, a teacher from Virginia Beach. She is in a right-to-work state, and it would be meaningful for her to see me involved through my union fighting for education as a whole.

 

What was your favorite subject in school, and which was the most challenging?

Language Arts was both my favorite and most challenging subject. I loved to write but had a tough time getting through the assigned books.

 

Fahie3_cropIf you could change any law or policy that affects your students, which one would it be?

We need to pull back on standardized testing. I’m fortunate that physical education is a non-tested subject, because I have more opportunity to build relationships with students.

 

What advice do you have for a fellow educator who is not currently politically active?

Get active as soon as possible. Start by calling or emailing a legislator, or inviting some folks to come rally with you. Or you can just show up at a rally—you don’t have to say anything sometimes just your physical presence can make such a big difference.

 

Between your work and your activism, you probably don’t have a lot of free time. But if you do get a day to yourself, how do you spend it?

Quality time with my wife and my daughter. That’s the time that means the most to me.

 

Jana Lewis, Colorado

Headshot 2Jana Lewis is an administrative education support professional and education activist from Larimer County, Colorado. In her 10 years at Stansberry Elementary School, she has also served as a paraprofessional for special needs students.

 

What inspired you to become an educator?

I loved school growing up and admired many of my teachers, as well as the education support staff. I was a dedicated volunteer in my daughter’s elementary school and was happy to have the opportunity to work in the school system.

 

What was the first issue or electoral campaign you were involved in?

The local school board mill levy in 2005-06. We walked in the Larimer County Fair parade and did hours of door-to-door canvassing.

 

What is the most recent activism you’ve taken part in?

Ousting the “reformers” from our school board. Last fall we won seats for pro-public school candidates.

 

Why is it important for educators to be politically involved?

State and national legislators dictate everything we can do and the funding we’ll have to do it. Legislators determine education mandates and set funding, so we must be politically active for our students, our children, and for all of our futures.

 

Rally_resizeWhat was the most meaningful moment during your political activity this past year?

The flow of support from our community last fall as we knocked on doors and moved closer to Election Day. We received a lot of support from people who understood we couldn’t let those so-called “reformers” control our schools.

 

If you could bring anyone with you to an education rally, who would it be and why?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because she’s an inspiration. But I also want to bring my husband,  because he’s supportive of everything I do.

 

What was your favorite subject in school, and which was the most challenging?

My favorite subject was psychology, and the most challenging was algebra.

 

TEA Booth_resizeIf you could change any law or policy that affects your students, which one would it be?

No more unfunded mandates, such as the READ Act here in Colorado.

 

What advice do you have for a fellow educator who is not currently politically active?

Step out of your comfort zone, your colleagues will be there to help. Whether you drop literature at the door, talk to people, or write postcards, it all matters.

 

Between your work and your activism, you probably don’t have a lot of free time. But if you do get a day to yourself, how do you spend it?

With my family, sitting by the river and taking some time to be thankful for what I have.

 

Nidia Lias, Arizona

Lias_resizeNidia Lias has worked in the Tempe Elementary School District for 21 years. She has 15 years of experience as a classroom teacher, and six as a teacher recruiter. She also has been a dedicated education activist since 2000.

 

What inspired you to become an educator?

The experiences I had as a Spanish-speaking elementary student who was lost in a program that didn’t know how to deal with a bilingual child. But also, in high school I had very inspirational teachers of math, dance, and English.

 

What was the first issue or electoral campaign you were involved in?

My earliest activism was around Prop 301, a measure on the 2000 ballot that gave us funding for education. Then there was the 2002 governor’s race here in Arizona—I did phone banking and canvassing, and put up yard signs everywhere.

 

What is the most recent activism you’ve taken part in?

I fought for Prop 123, which passed in May and will increase education funding by $3.5 billion over the course of 10 years. I have also worked to promote DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I’ve tried to help inform our communities on what it really means to be documented.

 

Prop 123Why is it important for educators to be politically involved?

I believe we have a responsibility to help our kids and help our education system be the best it can be. In Arizona, we’ve long been at the bottom when it comes to public school funding. It’s a responsibility that we as educators should take very seriously.

 

What was the most meaningful moment during your political activity this past year?

Promoting DACA and bringing communities together. And also seeing our young people go out and register people to vote, so we can make changes here in Arizona.

 

If you could bring anyone with you to an education rally, who would it be and why?

I would like to bring our Arizona Education Association Latino Outreach cadre. If I could only bring one person, it would be Hugo Arreola, an education support professional who helps students process their DACA paperwork. He is a phenomenal advocate and activist in the community.

 

What was your favorite subject in school and which was the most challenging?

My favorite subject was math. I had the most amazing teacher in high school who challenged me and encouraged me that I could do the work. The most challenging? As an elementary ESL student, I was put into special education by default. It was not where I belonged so I was a lost kid for a while, educationally.

 

Lias 2If you could change any law or policy that affects your students, which one would it be?

Undocumented youth should not go through the stress they’re going through right now in an uncertain system. I would like to see a favorable ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court that would give them the opportunity to access higher education and scholarships.

 

What advice do you have for a fellow educator who is not currently politically active?

Get involved, because it’s a great opportunity to help your students both in the classroom and outside the classroom.

 

Between your work and your activism, you probably don’t have a lot of free time. But if you do get a day to yourself, how do you spend it?

I always look forward to spending time with family and reconnecting with friends. Going to the movies would be great! Or traveling for fun!

Kristi Miyamae, Hawaii

Kristi face pic_resize_2Kristi Miyamae is a middle school math teacher in Mililani, Hawaii. She first joined the Association as a student member, and has served as a leader in her local and state chapters during her 12 years as a teacher.

 

 What inspired you to become an educator?

In high school, I was a part of a drug awareness program that offered us the opportunity to go out and teach elementary school students. It was so inspiring, and made me realize how much I enjoy teaching.

 

What was the first issue or electoral campaign you were involved in?

I got more deeply involved in the political process about five years ago when I took part in my local chapter’s candidate endorsement process. I served on the committee and interviewed candidates for state legislature.

 

What is the most recent activism you’ve taken part in?

This year I got more involved in letter writing campaigns to members of Congress.

 

Why is it important for educators to be politically involved?

It’s all about strengthening our profession. We are part of a brotherhood and sisterhood that can take the lead in terms of where we want education to go.

 

What was the most meaningful moment during your political activity this past year?

This year we worked to bring new members into leadership positions in the association and encouraged them to go out and talk to legislative leaders. It was exciting to train new leaders and see them become politically engaged.

 

If you could bring anyone with you to an education rally, who would it be and why?

Fellow HSTA member Jeanine Tsuchiya. She is truly an out-of-the-box thinker, who has helped me find ways to make our association better.

 

What was your favorite subject in school, and which was the most challenging?

My favorite was math, hands down. My most challenging subject was social studies.

 

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If you could change any law or policy that affects your students, which one would it be?

Policies that relate to social justice. Everyone deserves access to a good education, and resources should be more equitable for all students.

 

What advice do you have for a fellow educator who is not currently politically active?

Just take that first step—go to one activity and you will see how powerful it is when educators come together on behalf of our students. Then build from there.

 

Between your work and your activism, you probably don’t have a lot of free time. But if you do get a day to yourself, how do you spend it?

I don’t even know what those days are like anymore! For me, relaxing at home with my two dogs and cat is a nice day.

 

Roberta Rosheim, Iowa

Rosheim 1Roberta Rosheim taught elementary special education in Iowa for 40 years. She retired in 2012, and has continued to work on issues important to public education through her work as a political organizer and activist.

 

What inspired you to become an educator?

I always wanted to help kids. My mother was a teacher and two of my sisters had gone into the profession, so it was a natural thing for me to do.

 

What was the first issue or electoral campaign you were involved in?

George McGovern’s presidential campaign. That’s when I first started teaching, and it was my first caucus.

 

What is the most recent activism you’ve taken part in?

This year, I helped get all of our caucuses in Jackson County organized. I chaired my own caucus. I also went door- to-door for Hillary Clinton in Dubuque.

 

Why is it important for educators to be politically involved?

Our whole profession—funding, standards, the ability to negotiate, and our retirement—it all depends on legislation. So educators need to get out there and help elect people that will help our profession.

 

Rosheim with HRC_2What was the most meaningful moment during your political activity this past year?

There have been so many meaningful moments. The caucuses, of course—just being there and participating is exciting. And it was incredible to actually meet Hillary on the campaign trail.

 

If you could bring anyone with you to an education rally, who would it be and why?

I’d like to bring some younger teachers, so they can get engaged early.

 

What was your favorite subject in school and which was the most challenging?

Geography was the most challenging, but I also liked it. I appreciate knowing where things are and studying maps and things.

 

If you could change any law or policy that affects your students, which one would it be?

We need the ability to bargain for class size policies.  I would also like to see a law setting maximum class sizes for certain ages. Children definitely learn more when they get more attention and that is only possible with smaller classes.

 

Rosheim 3What advice do you have for a fellow educator who is not currently politically active?

I’d like to help them understand how legislation shapes their profession. It’s not just about salaries; educators need to be politically active in order to help their students and promote the profession. It’s a great profession that needs to be respected.

 

Between your work and your activism, you probably don’t have a lot of free time. But if you do get a day to yourself, how do you like to spend it?

I like to read and take care of my flowers and my yard. I have done some sewing, and I’ve started crocheting prayer shawls. I also like to travel and shop.

 

Kaileigh Schippa, Michigan

PIC 1_resize_2Kaileigh Schippa is an NEA Student member attending Central Michigan University. She has volunteered in the classroom in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and in Ireland, while studying abroad. She has also found her voice as an activist at a young age.

 

What inspired you to become an educator?

The teachers I had growing up. I had the most amazing third-grade teacher. In high school, my teachers were my support system, and I saw what they did every day to try to make a difference for the students around me. I knew that was what I wanted to do.

 

What was the first issue or electoral campaign you were involved in?

I was attending my first MEA event when they were looking for people to volunteer for PAC collections. Walking around and talking to teachers or support professionals about some of the political issues that affect their work made me interested in what political action meant and the effect it can have on our schools.

 

What is the most recent activism you’ve taken part in?

I attended the Teaching Empowered rally in Lansing this spring. It was a positive rally where teachers and families from across Michigan came together in front of the Capitol building to show that we are more than just teachers, that we have a positive impact on our communities.

 

PIC3_resizeWhy is it important for educators to be politically active?

Our job ties directly into politics, as much as we don’t want to admit it sometimes. There are people who have never been educators making choices for our students that aren’t always what’s best for them. As educators, we know our students, our schools, and what’s good for our children and communities. But if educators aren’t involved, we can’t make a difference.

 

What was the most meaningful moment during your political activity this past year?

During the Teaching Empowered rally, I turned around for a moment just to see who showed up and I was amazed just to see how many people were standing together in solidarity. The crowd was really engaged and excited to be there. It was a really emotional moment, just to see that many teachers standing together with their community.

 

If you could bring anyone with you to an education rally, who would it be and why?

Families. I think that getting local families involved is the key to any kind of activism. Getting your community engaged and excited about what you’re doing and knowing that it is important and it is going to make a difference.

 

What was your favorite subject in school and which was the most challenging?

My favorite subject has to be history and my most challenging was science. I loved all my subjects but I had a hard time with science.

 

IMG_6866_resizeIf you could change any law or policy that affects your students, which one would it be?

Michigan’s policies around standardized testing. We’re not going in the right direction.

 

What advice do you have for a fellow educator who is not currently politically active?

Even though you might say you’re in it for the students and not the politics, they go hand in hand. A first step could be as easy as just signing up to get the Education Votes newsletter, to become more aware of the things that are going on.

 

Between school and your activism, you probably don’t have a lot of free time. But if you do get a day to yourself, how do you spend it?

I live near a beautiful lake, so I would hike or spend time outdoors with friends and family.

Reader Comments

  1. What a wonderful, diverse group of dedicated education employees! Being involved in political action and lobbing for our students and fellow employees should be everyone’s goal. I truly enjoyed reading their stories.

    Congratulations!

  2. Congratulations Kaileigh! Your dedication to the Michigan Student Program has been outstanding and has not gone unnoticed. We know that you are passionate about being an aspiring teacher and furthermore a strong Union advocate.

  3. Nidia- you are an outstanding leader and activist. You inspire through your actions, and I am proud to know you. Thank you for all that you do, and thank you to everyone who takes up the same call as you do to be an active member of this association.

  4. Hats Off to you Jason! In the time that you’re become a member you have taken the bull by his horns. You are becoming a voice of action. You’re committed and show compassion for your craft.
    Good Luck and keep it up.
    Wendy Gibson

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