William Martinez, who works in construction, came to support his former teachers in the Adult Basic Education program. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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Update: Friday, March 11, 11:25 a.m.

Adult basic education teachers and their students picketed outside the MPS Center for Adult Learning on Thursday evening. Supportive honks from cars passing on Lake Street blared in a continuous din.

Nate Hart-Andersen and Alma Mendez, who teach adult learners, said they were on strike for a higher wage for educational support professionals and teachers. Adult basic education teachers earn as much as 30 percent less than K–12 teachers, Hart-Andersen said.

“Our program right now is in a crisis because we are seeing a massive exodus of our best and most qualified teachers,” he said. “That means members of the community who want to take our classes can’t take them because they aren’t available.” Those prospective students are adults studying English, learning computer skills, and pursuing their high school equivalency, he said.

“We provide a vital service to the community,” Mendez said. “We’re providing GED services and English language services so our students can move up in their careers.”

Angelica Cadena, who is pursuing her GED through the program, spoke glowingly about her educators.

“The teachers are amazing,” she said. “As adults, it’s harder for us to learn. The majority of us, our first language is not English, so it’s even harder. And they are so patient with all of us.”

Cadena was a kindergarten teacher in Mexico before coming to the United States.

“I know how hard it is to educate,” she said. “The teachers deserve fair pay, fair benefits. And it’s not fair especially in this school that they are receiving 30 percent less than the teachers in other schools.”

Angelica Cadena, a student pursuing her GED, marches in the picket line outside the MPS Center for Adult Learning on Thursday, March 10. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Marvin Applewhite received his GED through the program. He has been involved in the neighborhood for years, and said the teachers had always supported his endeavors.

“They need better pay, man,” he said, noting that Minneapolis educators have not been on strike since 1970. “They’ve been putting up with this large gap in pay for a long time. It’s time to get what they want, man. Just give ’em a little boost.”

William Martinez, an immigrant from El Salvador, came to the picket to support his former teachers. He said the program taught him how to survive in the United States, and described the English classes offered as invaluable.

“I know for a lot of immigrants, not only for Latinos, the doors that this class opened to us,” he said.

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.