Public school students from across Central Florida arrived by the busloads. Almost 800 of them. The energetic students joined hundreds more community leaders, Florida educators, and retired and student members of the National Education Association (NEA), June 30, at Osceola High and Thacker Avenue Elementary Schools in Kissimmee, Florida.
The fair, called the Leaders Empowering Grassroots Advocacy for Communities and Youth (LEGACY) Project, was designed specifically for students and their families.
“Our effort in organizing the fair was driven by addressing some of the needs of America’s youth,” says Chelsey Herrig, chair of the NEA Student Program. “If one student looks back on this day and says, ‘that’s when my life changed,’ then every step that has been taken for us to get here will have been worth it.”
“It’s wonderful that students from 11 different schools got the opportunity to interact with one another and they really enjoyed working with the NEA student and retired members,” said Osceola County Education Association (OCEA) President Apryle Jackson on the event. “Our [OCEA] members are always willing to step up and help with any project we have,” she added. “I look forward to volunteering in the future for the LEGACY Project.”
Over the last year, a committee of 10 NEA Student Program members from across the nation joined members of OCEA and Florida Education Association (FEA) in planning the fair, which featured dozens of “IMPACT” booths—exhibits and speakers highlighting voter registration, literacy, health and safety.
Police officers and nurses, for example, were there to discuss and promote safe and healthy living habits.
“We want to emphasize the need for students to develop healthy living habits so they can finish their educations and pursue their dreams,” Herrig says. “Part of the intent is to show students and their families that community groups and leaders came together because they care about them.”
Other activities included the planting of a community garden at Thacker Avenue Elementary (less than a half mile from Osceola High), outdoor games like kickball, and thanks to Home Depot, toolboxes and enough brushes and paint with which to decorate them.
In addition to fair-related activities, the artist Inocente Izucar—simply known as Inocente—painted a mural on an interior wall at Thacker Avenue Elementary depicting a large colorful and vibrant tree in the shape of a heart, with a sea of dancing flowers at the base.
At 28-by-9 feet, the mural is an intoxicating mix of yellow, blue, red, green and more. The yellow background immediately catches your eye and the warm blues and red bring the heart shaped tree to life. The mural, commissioned by NEA, is titled: Opportunity Grows Here.
Inocente, 21, is the subject of an award-winning documentary about her struggles as an undocumented immigrant who was homeless in San Diego off and on for nine years. Raised by a single mother, who is portrayed as an alcoholic in the film, Inocente was 15-years-old at the time. The documentary, titled Inocente, was screened Monday at the Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women.
David Sheridan, a writer/editor for NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Department, said of the filming: “It was a long day for the delegates, yet 300 people showed up. They not only watched the film, but they were engaged.”
Sheridan said the young painter spoke about how some classrooms could have could have two or three homeless students an no one might know.
“She struck a chord with the audience,” he said.
The Joint Conference and the LEGACY Project are taking place days before educators from across the country begin arriving in Orlando to participate in the world’s largest democratic deliberative body at the NEA’s 153rd Annual Meeting and 94th Representative Assembly (RA) June 26 – July 6.
More than 7,000 delegates will gather to set public education policy and establish priorities that will improve teaching and learning conditions in our public schools, tackling complex issues with far-reaching implications for the profession, from the future of testing to equity in education. The RA is the top decision-making body for the nearly 3 million-member NEA, and sets Association policy for the coming year.
Before they assume their official RA duties, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Vice President Rebecca S. Pringle, and Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss all visited the LEGACY Project events.
At last year’s RA, delegates voted to establish The LEGACY Project as a follow-up to Outreach to Teach, an NEA-sponsored community service project that included the renovation of a school in the city hosting the RA.
“Community service is great, but the purpose of this new design is to provide more than a quick before and after service,” says Herrig. “This (the fair) is the first step: Bringing everyone together for a shared purpose and common goal.”
By bringing public and private sector groups together for the community fair, connections are established, says Herrig.
“These partnerships are intended to last long after we leave,” she adds. “This is how we decided that the individual projects would be called “impacts” because it is the impact we are leaving on the community, students, and their families.”