Schools across Oklahoma may have been closed on Monday as teachers walked out to rally for increased education funding, but one group of students and teachers from Edmond Memorial High School continued classes on Capitol grounds.
Edmond Memorial teachers Regan Killackey, Brook Bullock and Kevin McDonald led AP English classes outside of the Capitol amid crowds of protesters. They led students in discussing essay prompts that covered topics such as civic duty and poetry analysis.
“[Having class at the Capitol] was my second hour’s brainchild,” said Killackey, an AP literature teacher. “They came up with that idea as a joke, and we kind of chuckled at first.”
Killackey said he soon realized the idea could be a powerful way to help students channel their frustrations with Oklahoma’s education funding debate.
Similarly, Bullock said that, as students know more about the state of education in Oklahoma, they are realizing they have a stake in the outcomes as well.
“Now as students have better understood the situation — ‘hooray teachers have their pay raise but they didn’t do anything for my building, for me as a student’ — the wheels are turning. They’re beginning to be motivated,” he said.
Students voice their concerns as well
Students sat outside in the cold on metal chairs as they talked with each other and their teachers about the essay prompts. A cordoned-off section of grass held plastic folding tables, chairs and speakers played music before the class sessions started. Killackey said 87 students were on the official sign-up list, but he expected the actual number of students who attend to be higher. All of the seats were filled, and some students even knelt in the grass to be part of class.
Despite temperatures in the mid- to high-30s, students said they were excited to be part of what they consider an important moment in Oklahoma history.
“It’s definitely a good way to show that there needs to be more funding for classrooms that have 40-plus students,” Edmond senior Karina Cunningham said. “The Legislature sees it on paper, but when you actually see it, one teacher to 40 students, it’s not enough.”
Fellow senior Maggie Mitchell agreed.
“I have a little brother who’s going to be growing up in the Edmond school district,” Mitchell said. “And I want to be sure that his class sizes don’t continue to be bigger. You worry about large class sizes when you’re in college, but not when you’re in seventh grade.”
Beyond teacher-student ratios, Edmond Memorial students said they were concerned about the inability of their school to afford new equipment, citing worn-out textbooks, broken computers and a lack of supplies, including paper and pens.
“I’ve just seen slowly my classrooms get bigger and bigger and not have paper for class. We can’t do a certain lab because someone had broken equipment and we can’t afford to buy another one,” said Edmond Memorial student Kiley Stoy.
Class sessions discussing the AP exam were only part of the schedule for Edmond Memorial students. Several students gave impassioned speeches about their involvement in today’s rally and the importance of calling for education funding.
Gabby Davis, a senior, called on the Legislature to realize that protesters were not just calling for a teacher pay raise.
“What we are rallying for today is not a higher pay raise for our teachers, but for a promise from our state to make concerted effort towards improving teacher retention and making extracurriculars and AP classes and adequately funded athletic programs possible for all Oklahoma schools,” Davis said.
She detailed what she thought that promise should look like.
“[The legislators] need to prove here and now that educating the future is a priority, that our state values our educators as professionals, and that they are committed to making Oklahoma a better place to live and work by drafting comprehensive legislation, backed by funding, to take care of our school, support staff and state employees,” Davis said to a chorus of cheers and applause.
Teacher: Students’ actions ‘incredibly inspiring’
McDonald, an AP language arts teacher, said that he was inspired by seeing his students involved in the rally and working on their own to make sense of it. He said several reached out to him on their own saying they had tried to process their feelings through writing, much as Davis had done, which resulted in her speech.
“As much as we value the AP lang’ exam, that’s not why we teach them these skills,” McDonald said. “To see them be able to use the skills we introduce to them, to take ownership of them and use them in independent settings, is incredibly inspiring.”