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Connecting you to your union, because together we are stronger. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2011

Classroom Assistant Jenny Garza s

Celebrate PSRPs Every Day ON THE THIRD WEDNESDAY OF NOVEMBER, ILLINOIS CELEBRATED PSRP DAY, an annual day dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the invaluable contributions of paraprofessionals and school-related personnel who support student learning, health and safety in preK-12 schools and higher education institutions across Illinois. CONTINUED ON PAGE 7

THIS NOVEMBER WE CELEBRATE and inadequate resources to provide a highTHE 90TH ANNIVERSARY OF AMERquality education for every child in a safe, ICAN EDUCATION WEEK, the anhealthy school building. At a time when we nual week dedicated to celebrating public should be lifting up our students to meet the schools and recognizing the outstanding challenges of tomorrow, we are stacking the efforts of the teachers and professional supodds against them more than ever before. In port staff who dedicate the spirit of American Edutheir lives to our improvcation Week, we must find The American Jobs Act ing the future of our chila solution to this crisis now. Makes dren and our nation. President Obama has said our But in states around the National Priority he believes that the path to nation, including here in a brighter future is through Illinois, lawmakers are education. “Every kid deslashing education funding, laying off thouserves a great school – and we can give it to sands of teachers and other workers, and them,” he said. That’s why he proposed the cutting programs that provide support to American Jobs Act, a bold initiative to put students and the neediest members of our Americans back to work, put teachers and communities. The result? Fewer jobs to staff back in our school buildings, strengthen support families, reduced public services struggling communities and repair crumto build and sustain strong communities bling schools.



Student Challenge Enter IFT’s Student Marketing Challenge today


IFT Interview Series A conversation with anti-bullying speaker Gabrielle Ford



Scholarship Winner IFT Carl J. Megel Scholarship winner announced


My (Exhausting, Inspiring, Unforgettable) “Day” as a PSRP Daniel J. Montgomery President

LET’S FACE IT, MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT AWARE OF THE WORK SCHOOL SUPPORT STAFF DO. Perhaps that’s because when done well, their work is invisible. We expect kids to learn. We expect the school environment to be friendly and safe. We expect lunchrooms to be clean and the lights to work and the grounds to be free of snow. But what many do not understand is that it takes more than classroom teachers to ensure all those things happen. And without PSRPs, they would not happen at all. So, I decided to walk in the shoes of a PSRP for a day. Four PSRPs, to be exact—two classroom assistants, a playground supervisor and a lunchroom custodian—at Woodland Elementary East in Woodland School District 50 in Gurnee. As an 18-year high school English teacher, I wanted to gain a better understanding for what it means to be a PSRP.

“ What I learned was eyeopening, inspiring and truly unforgettable.” I was charged with helping a half-dozen third graders learn to write four-digit numbers in expanded form, assisting an eight-year-old with special needs as he connected blocks and discovered that adding three and four makes seven, hustling dozens of rambunctious firstthrough third-graders into lunch from a raucous playground, sweeping Gummi Bears and Cheetos off the floor in a loud

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and lively cafeteria and then wiping down a huge room full of tables before the next group of kids scrambled in to eat and the cleaning process began again. My shift started at 9:30 a.m. (late, I know) and ended at 12:30 p.m. And in those three short hours, I was toast! What I learned was eye-opening, inspiring and truly unforgettable. I witnessed the high-level of commitment, energy and dedication it takes to support students with learning disorders and physical disabilities. I watched in awe as PSRPs worked in tandem with classroom teachers to teach lessons and supervise and support students, academically, socially and emotionally. And I wondered at their organizational skills and boundless energy as they worked to ensure students were in a happy, safe, clean environment in the building and on the school grounds. As I shadowed these PSRPs and tried to fill their shoes for three short hours, I quickly learned that trying to keep a table of six third-graders on task like Classroom Assistant Mary Reiling did during a math lesson takes more hands and eyes than I have. I learned that a skilled Classroom Assistant like Jenny Garza can anticipate a teacher’s every move, helping to enhance the lesson and make it fun. I learned that really good playground supervisors like Julie Snyder know every child by name, pick them up when they fall, protect them from bullying, enforce safety rules and ensure kids enjoy some play time. And I learned that keeping busy lunch rooms GOING GREEN: Union Link is printed on recycled paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and printed with environmentallyfriendly soy-based inks. © 2011 ILLINOIS FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, AFT, AFL-CIO

Daniel J. Montgomery President Chief Operating Officer Karen GJ Lewis Executive Vice President Marcia K. Campbell Secretary-Treasurer

spotless while hundreds of kids are eating is almost impossible, but dedicated custodians like Blanca Gonzales make it look easy.

“ My experience as a PSRP made it clearer to me than ever before that we owe PSRPs our gratitude and respect.” The level of caring and commitment shown by each of these PSRPs I had the honor to observe and work alongside was nothing less than inspiring. My experience as a PSRP made it clearer to me than ever before that we owe PSRPs our gratitude and respect. And we owe it to our students to educate parents and the public about how these dedicated professionals are vital to kids’ success. So I’m asking each of you to express your appreciation for the paraprofessionals and school-related personnel in your workplaces or children’s schools. Ask your colleagues, friends and family to do the same. Every day, let’s thank a PSRP for all they do for our children, our schools and our communities.

Amy Excell-Bailey Publications Director Dave Comerford Media Director Beth Camplain Art Director



E-mail comments and suggestions to us at, or send letters to Union Link, P.O. Box 390, Westmont, IL 60559. Please include your full name, address and daytime phone number.


The American Jobs Act will provide $30 billion – nearly $1.4 billion for Illinois alone – to: • prevent additional teacher layoffs and rehire teachers and staff in the schools; •

create additional jobs in early childhood, elementary and secondary education, including paraprofessional and school- related personnel positions;

Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

• provide funding to repair, renovate and modernize public schools;


• extend unemployment benefits to workers in Illinois and nationwide; IFT Voices Be a part of the conversation! IFT Voices is a way for IFT members to share opinions on various topics.

• help struggling homeowners refinance and stay in their homes; • keep firefighters and police officers on the job;

• and more. (Visit jobsact for details.) In recent weeks, Republicans have repeatedly worked to block this critical legislation. But we must all do our part to pressure lawmakers to pass critical components of this legislation and put Washington’s focus on education, working families and our nation’s future - not on partisan politics. America’s schools, children, workers and communities need help now.

TakeAction To sign the petition to repair and modernize America’s crumbling public schools, visit to find out how.

Members are encouraged to post responses online at:

Member Benefits Your union provides you with support at your workplace, but it also offers you and your family money savings on high-quality consumer benefits and services. The IFT and the AFT have developed programs that offer a broad variety of cost-saving options.

“Like” Us Stay up-to-date on union activities by connecting with IFT on Facebook. Click the blue Facebook icon under “Connect With Us” on the right side of the IFT home page or find us on Facebook by visiting:



UIC Faculty Union

Wins Again THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS – CHICAGO (UIC) FACULTY UNITED, LOCAL 6456, has been vindicated for a second time with another legal win in their fight for recognition with the University administration. In September, the full Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) ruled in favor of the faculty union at UIC, certifying the group as one bargaining unit despite the repeated appeals by university administration. The local won a previous decision from an IELRB judge in May 2011. In April 2011, representatives of UIC

United Faculty, jointly organized by the IFT, American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), delivered hundreds of signed union authorization cards to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The number of cards filed far exceeded the amount required to certify the union under Illinois’ card check law. The diverse group of tenured faculty voted to be represented by a single union. Despite this second ruling in the union’s favor, the administration and UIC President Hogan continue to

Today! Sign Up Your Team

spend student and taxpayer dollars on high-priced, union-busting attorneys to fight the law and the will of the faculty. Local 6456 has repeatedly reached out to the administration in the spirit of cooperation to work together to strengthen the university and achieve the university’s mission of research, teaching and service. “We have followed the law, and previous case law clearly shows that we have every legal right to be recognized as one union,” said Lennard Davis, Distinguished Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UIC. “We call on the administration to work with us to strengthen our university.”

StayInformed For the latest information about the UIC United Faculty’s efforts to secure recognition and to learn how you can help, visit their Web site at

student marketing


The Illinois Federation of Teachers Student Marketing Challenge (IFT SMC) provides Illinois students from Kindergarten through 12th grade an exciting opportunity to get real-world experience in the marketing/communications industries. The 2011 IFT Student Marketing Challenge topic is:


TO ENTER: Each student team must develop a marketing campaign that meets the criteria for their grade level in the 2011 IFT SMC Case Study. Visit for more information.




Getting Rid of School Bullies,

interview series

One Bully at a Time likely require a wheelchair. The diagnosis was devastating.

But what happened in the years that followed may have been worse. As the disease progressed and her motor and speech impairments slowly increased, Ford became the victim of severe school bullying. For six years she suffered daily from cruel verbal and even physical abuse from her peers that drove her to hide from the outside world – and herself. s Ford giving a classroom presentation about her profound experiences with bullying.

An Interview with

Gabrielle Ford SCHOOL BULLYING IS A SERIOUS ISSUE AND SHOULD NEVER BE CONSIDERED SIMPLY A CHILDHOOD “RITE OF PASSAGE.” Just ask Gabrielle “Gabe” Ford. The nationallyknown anti-school bullying speaker and author of the autobiography “Still Dancing” knows from personal experience just how damaging bullying can be. At age 12, the girl who dreamed of becoming a professional dancer was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare disease that slowly damages the nervous system, eventually causing impaired muscle coordination and motor functioning, speech difficulties and other problems that worsen over time. Ford learned that in the early stages of the disease, loss of balance, coordination and slurred speech generally occur. But in later stages, she was told she would

After many years – and the help of a very special canine friend who gave her a purpose – Ford has begun a happy and meaningful new life. She talked to Union Link about her experiences and why she is dedicated to the cause of ending bullying, one bully at a time. UL: Your story is inspirational. Is it difficult to tell? Ford: It’s gotten easier over the years as I travel to so many schools to talk to kids about my experiences, but it is still hard. The memories are painful and will never go away completely. But I have learned that it is important for me to talk about it. Bullying is an epidemic. So many kids are bullied and they need to know that other people understand what they are going through. They are not alone.

about it or think about it. I worried that I wouldn’t be accepted if kids thought I was different. I didn’t really notice anything different about myself but kids did. So as the disease got worse, I spent all my energy trying to look “normal.” If I lost my balance or anything, I would try to make it look like an accident or cover it up. I was aware of every move I made. Hiding my problems was my whole focus. My grades even suffered because I only worried about how I looked to people. UL: How were you bullied? Ford: Kids would mock the way I walked. They would exaggerate the way I talked. They would make fun of even the way my jaw moved. In the hallways people would brush against me to try to make me lose my balance. They would knock the books out of my hands knowing it was difficult for me to pick them up. They would walk on the backs of my heels. They would trip me and I couldn’t react quickly enough and I would fall. I was even hit in the legs and came home with bruises all over. The bullies did whatever they could think of to ridicule me. CONTINUED ON IFT-AFT.ORG

UL: Can you describe what you went through?

To read the rest of the conversation with Gabrielle Ford, visit

Ford: When I first found out I had the disease, my life was turned upside down. I just denied it. I didn’t want to talk

Visit to learn more about the author and where her books are sold.



PSRP/PE Conference

Activates Informs &


PARAPROFESSIONALS AND SCHOOL-RELATED PERSONNEL (PSRPS) AND PUBLIC EMPLOYEES from IFT locals around the state came together in Springfield October 21-22 at the first-ever joint IFT PSRP/Public Employees conference. Under the 2011 conference theme of “We Are One,” IFT Secretary-Treasurer Marcia Campbell kick-started the weekend’s events by asking participants to use the conference as a networking and learning experience. “I don’t have to tell you that we are going through tough times,” the IFT leader said. “Use this opportunity to get to know people and talk to one another about what you’re dealing with in your locals. Learn from each other’s experiences. That’s what will help us continue to be effective and strong in our locals and in the IFT.”

Campbell’s comments about the importance of working together were reinforced by AFT Wisconsin Secretary Deb Ausman, who gave a firsthand account during her keynote address of the battle that continues to be waged in that state. Ausman detailed the events leading up to the passage of Governor Scott Walker’s infamous “Budget Repair Bill” earlier this year, which essentially eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The protests, rallies and other events in Madison were attended by hundreds of thousands of people and gained worldwide media attention. “We are truly thankful for the support we received from other states, the AFT national and labor unions around the country,” she said. “We needed to fight these fights, not just for us but to try to stop this from happening elsewhere. We’re all in this together,” Ausman concluded. IFT President Dan Montgomery agreed, adding that the IFT and our members will need to continue their energetic efforts from last spring to defeat the attacks we are likely to face in the days

“ Learn from each other’s experiences. That’s what will help us continue to be effective and strong in our locals and in the IFT.”



Attendees check in and register s for the conference Friday evening.

and months ahead. “There’s a very concerted effort to come after us, which means we’re gonna have to crank up that energy again,” Montgomery said. “The Koch brothers, the Civic Committee, they have a lot of money to promote their anti-union agendas,” the IFT president admitted, “but they don’t have YOU on their side. We are the union because of YOU.” Informative workshops were presented on both days of the event specifically designed to meet the needs of PSRPs and public employees. Topics ranged from avoiding work-related problems due to social media use to engaging members and the community through messaging to the importance of political

2011 Scholarship

IFT Carl J. Megel Special Education



involvement. Conference-goers also heard presentations from representatives of the three public pension systems – State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS), State Universities Retirement System (SURS) and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) – in which PSRPs and public employees are eligible to participate.


Each year on this special day – and every day – consider doing something special to acknowledge the challenging and important work of teaching assistants, clerical professionals,

Miranda Thompson was selected to win the 2011 IFT Carl J. Megel Special Education Scholarship. Thompson graduated from Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn in June. She is the daughter of Amy Thompson, who is a member of the West Suburban Teachers Union, Local 571.


The Public Employees Constituency Council discussed upcoming legislative issues during the conference.

Dan Montgomery, Miranda Thompson with her mother Amy, a member of Local 571, and Jane Russell

bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, security personnel and other PSRPs who make a difference for students every day. Talk to your colleagues, family and friends and ask them to do the same.

Here are a few suggestions about simple ways you can let PSRPs know they are respected and appreciated for the critical work they do. You can probably think of many other ideas - be creative! 1 Simply say “thank you” to the PSRPs at your workplace, child’s school or wherever you go. Offer a card or small gift of appreciation to PSRPs you or your child work with directly. 2 Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or favorite online news outlet about PSRP Day in Illinois and the important work PSRPs do across the state. 3 If you are a teacher, have your students create a “thank you” poster, card or other artwork for the PSRPs in your classroom or building. If possible, organize a time for some PSRPs to come to your classroom to accept the gift from the students. 4 If you are a parent with school-age children, talk to your school’s PTA or other parent groups about PSRP Day. Ask them to sponsor a PSRP appreciation event, such as a breakfast or other function on PSRP Day each year. 5

If your local has PSRP members, arrange a special union event, such as a rally or reception, to recognize them. If your local does not represent PSRPs, invite neighboring locals with PSRPs to help you organize the event and get PSRPs to attend. A little solidarity goes a long way!

Thompson maintained an excellent grade point average throughout high school and was a member of the National Honor Society. She participated in cross country and track and was also involved in the student council, the Eco Club and German Honor Society. In the community, Thompson participated in Girl Scouts, volunteered for her church, participated in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life and volunteered for a local homeless shelter. In her scholarship essay, Thompson wrote about how she has learned to adapt to her learning disability and work with her own strengths to learn and achieve at a high level. “Even though my learning disability has created some setbacks for me, I feel that I have gained more than I have lost,” she wrote. “It has helped me determine the way I learn. “I look forward to applying all that I have learned about myself and in school to a field of study about which I am passionate…this scholarship will help me to achieve this goal.”

ReadMore For more information about the union’s scholarship programs, visit U N I O N L I N K | O C T O B E R/NOVEMBER 2011






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EVENTS UNION LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE Winter Session February 4-5, 2012


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Spring Session April 28-29, 2012 IFT Robert M. Healey Center Westmont, IL

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Union Link Oct/Nov 2011  

October/November issue of IFTs newsletter, Union Link

Union Link Oct/Nov 2011  

October/November issue of IFTs newsletter, Union Link