It was a balmy, humid May evening, ideal for bike riding and long walks. Instead I, like many of my peers along with their parents and teachers, poured into the auditorium at San Gabriel High School. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was packed. In a largely immigrant community like Alhambra, this was something I’d never seen before at this type of meeting. Language barriers and cultural differences make it difficult for large community actions to be successful, but the common cause of quality public education drove people to leave their comfort zones and “fight the good fight” against budget cuts.
I’m a child of the 90s, but I remember thinking, “this is what the sixties must’ve felt like” — the feeling of empowerment and the ability to bring about change. Sitting there in that dark auditorium, I was amazed by the passionate speeches given by legislative representatives, PTA leaders, and teachers. They commanded the full attention of the room, with moving testimonials of the effects of AUSD’s financial plights.
All this talk of the desperate financial situations brought up what was at stake — cut programs, a drastically shortened school year, and being expected to perform better on state tests with less time. The speeches made by the speakers were inspiring and offered a new perspective to the dull as dishwater “budget cuts issue” that many avoid like the plague. Can’t we just talk about happier things? Parents were offered statistics that did not add up — being the eighth largest economy in the world, how can California be in such a deficit crisis? Why was California ranked 49th in the nation for student-to-faculty ratio? We in the audience were urged to contact our state legislators immediately to voice our concerns. All of the speakers emphasized the strength we have when we are united and fighting for a common cause. It was especially comforting to hear the teachers and administrators proclaim that they would not be the generation to allow the public education system to fail for their children.
I am a product of the Alhambra public education system: I went to elementary school at Martha Baldwin Elementary and continued on at Alhambra High School. As a student I’m frequently reminded in classes such as drama and music of the cuts when teachers give their own money to buy basic supplies. Driven by passion and in spite of hard financial times, I’ve seen how many teachers are not willing to compromise the quality of education in their own classrooms and are therefore, forced to pour their own money to maintain it. What I find really alarming is that many of them continue to do so with the prospect of being “pink-slipped” by the end of the year. I see the pressure they feel to increase test scores, but also wanting to stimulate sincere interest in learning.
My time in high school would not have been anywhere as fulfilling without this exposure. I would not have gotten to meet a Holocaust survivor, I would have never went to a demonstration against budget cuts with my teachers, I would certainly not be here doing an article for the Alhambra Source.
By the time I left, I felt empowered to take action. I didn’t want the guilt of knowing that future generations were denied things I had considered necessities growing up because I stood by idly. As a senior at Alhambra High School, it is almost too easy to be apathetic to the looming threats of budget cuts. “Why do we care? We’re out of here.” Pretty soon, I’ll be off to college and what does it matter to me if field trips, extracurriculars, or sports are cut? I left with my mother, saying I never had to deal with this stuff because I went to elementary school when the economy was doing well, but now, even instructional time was being compromised (possibly up to 30 furlough days in AUSD next year). Everyone was crowded around their legislative offices. Translators were helping those who did not speak English. I’d never felt so empowered and hopeful that because we were taking the action and felt that people really had the power to bring about the change that they wanted to see.