07/28/2016

One early educator's story of hope and courage

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A pre-K teacher's career odyssey from pain to promise was shared with convention delegates by Carmella Salinas, an Española, N.M., educator and president of the AFT's New Mexico Early Educators United. Salinas stood at the podium on July 21 and recounted years of struggle—the fight to keep electricity on in her home, the daily battle to keep family finances afloat, a never-ending ordeal faced by her and early educators like her, professionals across the country scraping by on wages that don't reflect their exceptional skills or the essential contributions they make to the education mission.

 

Carmella SalinasPhoto by Michael Campbell

Not long after she started working as a pre-K teacher, and dealing with the paycheck-to-paycheck struggles that go with it, Salinas began to see that the fault lay not with the clients, centers and practitioners but with a broken system, one that was dishing out stress and financial pain to every segment of the early childhood education community. "I knew I wasn't a failure," Salinas said. "It was the system that was failing me."

That realization was a jolt, and it led to action. A new coalition took root in New Mexico: PEOPLE for the Kids, a break-the-mold partnership among educators, parents and the owners of early learning centers across the state. They are working to make the state the first in the nation to guarantee access to affordable, high-quality child care and early education for all. 

"Together, we have a voice," said Salinas, whose story was recently featured in the New York Times. Today, she serves as president of the groundbreaking new coalition, and prospects for real change are growing by the day. "I've seen change in the last five years," she told the convention, and there is "hope among my co-workers."

[Mike Rose]