Oh, What a Year

Friday, June 25, 2021
Good Afternoon Sisters and Brothers of the Plainedge Federation of Teachers,
I hope this message finds you excited and ready for the start of a long summer vacation with lots of friends and family! Wow!! What a long, strange year it has been. I'm sure there is very little doubt in any teacher's or teaching assistant's mind that this has been one of the most difficult and strange years to be an educator. Masks, daily temperature checks, hybrid learning, remote instruction, quarantining, are just a few of the new daily norms that we had to become accustom to throughout the school year. Somewhere along the way, I'm sure most of our elementary school teachers became annoyed not being able to work with kids in groups, while our middle and high school teachers probably spent some frustrating days teaching to a room full of ceiling fans online. Even in the face of the minor annoyances and major difficulties of this pandemic, we persevered, we educated, and with a little patience, flexibility, compassion, and humor, we made it!!
Even before the school year began, our PFT leadership team was very heavily involved getting the buildings and membership ready to return to school. We spent countless hours working with District admin on the re-opening team, making sure that decisions were being made to both protect our member's health and allow for the best possible level of instruction. In addition to making sure we could safely open in the fall, the PFT leadership also spent time speaking to new teachers and educating them on the importance of signing a union card and joining the PFT. Through the effort of those at New Teacher Institute, we were able to convince all the new hires to become part of our organization and therefore maintain a 100% membership in our union! In order to make sure that new members felt welcome to our union family, we continued our union's New Member Buddy Program, which pairs our newest educators with veteran PFT members. Our PFT Political Action Chair, Michel Cipriano, led the program, which was not only well received by all those who participated, but also very innovative among teacher unions on Long Island. Undoubtedly, we will continue this program for years to come and encourage as many members as possible to get involved.
During the fall, although a walk with thousands of people was out of the question for this school year, we once again managed to raise thousands of dollars for breast cancer research by participating in the Making Strides Against Cancer Fundraiser. Without an actual walk, the energy of previous years was hard to duplicate, but thanks to the tireless efforts of our Making Strides Coordinator, Lynn Mudryk, we were still able to complete the fund raising aspect of the event. A lot of the money raised this past year came from raffle baskets made in every school building and a very generous donation from our PFT Retiree Chapter. This year happened to be extra special for the PFT, since the walk was dedicated to one of our own retirees, Sheila Goldberg. Sheila was a former PFT leader, Plainedge Retiree Chapter President, and NYSUT Making Strides Co-Chair for Nassau County from 2001-2019, and was the main driving force behind many of our years as a sponsor for the Making Strides Charity.  This year's event was dedicated to her memory, and as a two-time breast cancer survivor, I'm sure Sheila is looking down on us all, very proud of the job that we did in her honor!
As the pandemic continued throughout the school year, it became clear that holding our incredibly successful Wizards fundraiser wouldn't be possible. However, as is normally the case with our fundraising coordinators Erin Lehane and Bess DaGaray, they came up with another method to raise money for our PFT Scholarships Account, by hosting a drive-in movie night in early December with the Plainedge PTA. We arranged for a showing of the holiday movie Elf, and all who were in attendance that evening were treated to a fun and safe night out with their families.
As the warmer weather of spring approached and the pandemic restrictions began to ease, we realized it was best for the community to have our We Make a Difference Awards Ceremony in-person. At our 22nd annual We Make a Difference Awards Ceremony, we rolled out the red carpet and honored over 185 well-deserving students who make Plainedge a more enjoyable experience for all. Although there were changes to the format due to Covid-19, like splitting the ceremony into two sessions to allow for social distancing, all the students were thrilled to receive their awards. The smiling faces on all participants and the reactions from all who attended assured us we had made the correct decision to host our ceremony live.
Finally, and most importantly, we made it through the school year without any one of our members losing their job or life to this terrible disease. While we certainly didn't make it through completely unscathed, as a few of our members got sick and some are still struggling with the after effects of Covid, we were more fortunate than other unions across Long Island. Sadly, there were many teachers in other locals who got laid off as a result of remote instruction and some NYSUT members who unfortunately died from contracting the virus. It was certainly a difficult and sometimes very sad year in public education.
While I'm not sure what next school year will bring as far as guidelines are concerned, please be reassured that our PFT leaders will be at the table over the summer, working with the District, to bring us back to the healthiest and most educationally sound conditions possible next fall. When we return, however, please keep in mind that regardless of the State's rules, there are many in the PFT who will still need to wear masks due to preexisting health conditions. Let's remember to be sensitive to each other as we never know the challenges that other members could be facing due to the ongoing pandemic.
Irrespective of State guidelines, mandates, or any other challenges that we face next year, there is little doubt that we will continue to work just as hard improving the lives of children and advocating for public education as we have done in the past. If we can make it teaching through a pandemic, I'm sure there's nothing that the members of the PFT can't achieve! On behalf of the entire PFT leadership team, I wish you a very safe, healthy, and enjoyable summer vacation. Enjoy the rest...you've earned it!! In solidarity.