AFT Launches $5 Million ‘Real Solutions for Kids and Communities’ Campaign to Help Students Recover and Thrive
WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten addressed more than 1,000 educators at the union’s TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) conference today, launching a yearlong $5 million Real Solutions for Kids and Communities campaign and urging Americans to reject the culture wars and fight for the transformative supports students need to recover and thrive.
In a passionate, wide-ranging keynote, Weingarten, speaking alongside U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, rallied members to call out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other extremist politicians banning books, censoring history and defunding public schools and instead emphasized solutions to the three L’s—learning loss, literacy and loneliness—through strategies including reading instruction, community schools, experiential learning, student well-being and holding social media companies accountable.
“No one has to cite drops in test scores or attendance for us to know that students aren’t recovering as fast as we’d like and that many of our kids are not all right,” Weingarten said. “Educators and families know the condition of our children better than anyone.”
“Helping kids recover and thrive is your priority. I’ve seen it, in classrooms from coast to coast and in between. What I have witnessed, what educators like you have shown me, what research has proven—all form a set of strategies and solutions that have and will help young people and strengthen public education. But it must be a national priority. And it must be our union’s priority.”
Real Solutions for Kids and Communities will roll out with a yearlong tour of multiple states and schools to showcase best practices that are scalable, sustainable and adaptable elsewhere. The union’s program through November 2024 will be amplified via paid ads, including radio, streaming and digital buys; a campaign page; social media initiatives; and parent partnerships. The upcoming edition of the AFT’s award-winning journal American Educator will be dedicated to literacy as educators return to classrooms this fall.
The campaign zeroes in on:
- Unlocking the power and possibility that come from being a confident reader.
- Catalyzing a vast expansion of community schools that meaningfully partner with families.
- Ensuring that all children have opportunities to learn by doing—engaging in experiential learning, including career and technical education.
- Caring for young people’s mental health and well-being, including by demanding that social media companies protect, not prey on, children.
- Fighting for the teaching and support staff and the resources students need to thrive.
“These strategies work. And we will do everything we can to spread and sustain them—visiting classrooms and communities across the country, lifting up these solutions and the countless other things you are doing to help kids succeed,” Weingarten said.
Weingarten called experiential learning “a 21st-century gamechanger.” “It prepares students for the opportunities of tomorrow, engages students in deeper learning, provides them with real-world, real-life skills, and boosts academic achievement,” she said. Career and technical education is “project-based experiential learning at its best” and leads directly to jobs in healthcare, culinary and hospitality, advanced manufacturing and aeronautics, information technology, graphic design and more. Crucially, Weingarten noted that standardized test-based accountability systems can’t capture the richness of experiential learning.
Community schools, Weingarten said, do two things: They wrap services around schools, including academics, healthcare, mental health services, food assistance, child care, enrichment, tutoring and sports, and “they become centers of community” and “help solve the multitude of challenges students and families confront today.” AFT members have helped create more than 700 community schools across the country, and are part of a movement calling for 25,000 community schools by 2025.
During her speech, Weingarten launched the AFT’s partnership with Reading Universe, led by the AFT’s longtime partner WETA, along with First Book and the Barksdale Reading Institute, whose pioneering work in Mississippi has moved fourth-grade reading achievement from the bottom of the country up to the national average.
Reading is the key to college and career, to life and to joy, and Reading Universe gives teachers access to additional strategies and skills to help them teach kids. It’s a free, online, step-by-step pathway for teachers, paraprofessionals and reading coaches to learn more about evidence-based reading instruction and then deploy it in classrooms.
Weingarten also highlighted the harmful impacts of social media on kids and families, launching a report, “Likes vs. Learning: The Real Cost of Social Media for Schools,” along with partners ParentsTogether, Fairplay for Kids, Design It for Us and the American Psychological Association, to call on social media giants to make fundamental changes to prioritize kids’ safety and well-being.
“Social media companies have shirked their responsibility to reduce the potential for these platforms to hurt kids. These companies must protect young people, not prey on them for profit.”
She concluded her speech on an optimistic and hopeful note: “No one can do all of this, but we all can do something. And through our union, we can achieve great things together that would be impossible alone. Never ever forget, in this fight between hope and fear, between aspiration and despair, between light and darkness…you are the hope, the aspiration and the light.”
TEACH, the AFT’s biennial professional development conference, offers more than 70 engaging cross-curricular sessions for educators and union leaders through Sunday, with meaningful tools and resources, learning solutions, wellness sessions and opportunities to collaborate with colleagues.
It features numerous high-profile guest speakers, including bestselling author and investigative journalist Amanda Ripley, University of Southern California professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, and FULCRUM co-founder and Executive Director Kareem Weaver.
To schedule an interview with Weingarten and other AFT officers, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
# # # #
The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.