Rosa Llangari knows that teachers need more help in their classrooms. Before the pandemic, she volunteered in her children’s school. She’s seen how it helps teachers to have more supporting adults and fewer students in each classroom.
At a picnic table in Powderhorn Park on an unseasonably warm, cloudy Monday, Llangari kept an eye on her youngest child on the playground. Since Minneapolis educators went on strike two weeks ago, her older children, who attend Andersen United Middle School, have been spending their days playing tennis. Llangari and her 6-year-old, a student at Green Central Elementary, have been attending Minneapolis Public Schools family programs.
Her kids should be learning, she said.
“I think two years is lost for them,” she said. “For the pandemic, and now for the strike.”
Parents and children throughout the park voiced similar thoughts. They support the teachers’ quest for higher pay and lower class sizes, they said. But they want children back in school, and asked when the strike would end.
Maria Genchi, sitting at the other end of the same picnic table to watch her own daughter, said she didn’t hear about the strike until it had already started.
“I heard she had no school. That’s it,” she said. Later, she saw educators with picket signs on Lake Street, demanding better wages and smaller class sizes.
“Do you know how long the strike is?” she asked me.
Negotiations are making progress, I said, but it didn’t look like the teachers and district were on the cusp of a deal. “I don’t know,” I told her.
“Will it be another week?” she asked, with a nervous laugh.
Genchi works overnight shifts at Target, so she hasn’t had to rearrange her work schedule to watch her 9-year-old daughter, Gisella, who attends Burroughs Community School. But she’s sleeping less because her daughter is bored at home, she said.
While she thinks it would be better for Gisella to be in school, Genchi said she supports the teachers. She hopes the strike will ultimately help the students, she said.
“For the students, we want them to go to school, but at the same time it might be better for them,” she said.
Across the playground by the recreation center, Geni Mohamed sat on a bench while her daughters, 17-year-old Mulki Osman and 9-year-old Shaima Ali, played nearby. Mulki is a senior at South High School, while Shaima attends Bancroft Elementary School.
“It’s not good when kids don’t go to school,” Geni said, as Mulki interpreted. “It’s good that they wake up in the morning and go learn something.”
Shaima, a third-grader with a bright smile who bounced around her sister and mother while she spoke, said she wanted to be in school.
“We are sad because we still want to learn and be smart,” she said. “We don’t want to go behind and not know anything.”
“I want the same things as the teachers want, because they work hard to provide for the children,” Geni said.
“My teacher says she has been doing this for 20 years in a row,” Shaima piped up. “They’re still trying to get the same things.” One of those things was smaller classes, she added.
Does Shaima want smaller classes?
She shook her head no, while her mother and sister laughed.
Small classes are good, Mulki said, “because the teachers are focused on you, and when you raise your hand they can see you more clearly.”
Her teachers were “tired and exhausted,” Shaima added. “Also sometimes they stay in school and they also have to do computer work.”
Mulki, a high school senior, plans to head to college in the fall. If her educators weren’t on strike, she said, she would be working on scholarship applications in school. She has already completed some, but she would have liked to submit more in case her applications are rejected, she said.
Shaima said she worries that the strike will last a long time, and fears she might have to start third grade again instead of advancing to fourth grade.
“We thought this week schools were going to open, but we were wrong,” she said.
“We kept checking every day,” Mulki added.
“What do you think?” Geni asked, with Mulki interpreting. “Do you think this week will be the last week, or do you think they still could go on?”
I wished I had an answer.