By Sara Luster / photos: DebForCongress.com
Gena Sosa is an elementary teacher for Bernalillo Public Schools, a small community just north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was born on a reservation in rural New Mexico to a family of educators, and decided continue their legacy by dedicating her life to public education.
After several years of teaching, Sosa wanted to do even more to make a difference for her students. So she got involved in local politics through her union.
“The NEA provides an amazing platform to get involved in local and even national politics for all members who are interested,” she says.
Now Sosa is using her campaigning skills on behalf of a candidate who is particularly inspiring to her.
Debra Haaland, running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, is on track to make history after winning the Democratic primary. If she wins, Haaland will be the first Native American woman member of Congress.
Throughout her campaign, Haaland has emphasized the need to re-invest in public schools, which would help New Mexico’s critically underfunded education system.
New Mexico public schools have been targeted for budget cuts repeatedly and have lacked resources for years, leaving educators struggling to address the needs of all students. One-third of students in the state of New Mexico live at or below the poverty line.
“Budget cuts are constant,” says Sosa. “There are not enough textbooks and technology. Our class ratios are unbelievable, and fewer and fewer people want to teach here.”
Haaland supports adding more social services for school age children, increasing federal funding for public schools, and establishing universal Pre-K. She would make this positive change for public education possible by asking wealthy corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.
In her widely shared primary victory speech this June, Haaland chanted, “our win is a victory for the American people, a victory for women, a victory for Indian country, and a victory for everyone who has been sidelined by the billionaire class.”
Haaland also recognized the work NEA members and other grassroots organizers had done in her victory address, saying, “Thank you to the tens of thousands of volunteers, grassroots donors and supporters who won this election.”
Sosa heard her loud and clear. But she believes the real reward is knowing that her work on Haaland’s campaign will ultimately benefit students.
“My favorite part of being a teacher is running into former students who I made an impact on,” says Sosa. She recalls being stopped by a former student who was in a tough place when she was in Sosa’s classroom but who had overcome barriers and was doing well.
“When a student remembers you and recognizes you worked hard with them and that you cared, that’s what makes it all worth it.”