Irvington High School in Fremont, California doesn’t tend to agree on many things. Whether it’s the clash of the classes during the rallies or the whispers of “freshmen are literally the worst” running through the halls, Irvington is a hotbed for conflict.
But occasionally, we will band together on a common interest or disgust. From our shared despair of precalculus with certain teachers, to our love for summer vacation, to the united suffering during AP tests, Irvington will band together at times with a startling sense of solidarity.
This same unity began during Monday at exactly 12:23 PM, when Jasmine Tong-Seely created a Facebook group aptly titled “Fremont Students For Education”. For the past two years, Fremont Unified School District teachers had been fighting for a simple 2% salary raise. To most of us, the raise was justified. The average rent price per month in Fremont is only $100 less than New York City. The average house price in Fremont has reached 1.1 million dollars. The overall cost of living in Fremont is 81% higher than the national average. Yet most of our teachers don’t even make enough to afford rent in Fremont for more than 10 months.
Monday was also the day that the teachers’ Work To Rule policy began, in which teachers followed their contracts to the dot, refusing to be club advisors, write letters of recommendation, and do anything outside of what was absolutely required of them. As I was added to the group on Monday itself, I saw truly inspirational sight: a large group of Fremont high-school students banding together to protest the unfair treatment of teachers in our district.
Immediately, we began working out the logistics of a planned walkout on Wednesday. There was tension between the different group members, no doubt, but the connection between the students was one that was visible and ready to take back the teachers’ rights with a vengeance.
By some sort of miracle, we managed to organize a functional movement, complete with fliers, posters, and participants from other schools. We received silent nods of approval from our teachers. A dream was becoming a reality. And exactly at 2:20 PM on June 6th, students poured out of their classrooms and made their way over to the school district office.
I must admit: being one of the first people there and seeing all the people pouring in was exhilarating, to say the least. The misconception that Generation Z kids are lazy and irresponsible brats seemed to be eradicated by this moment. As we walked to the District Office and heard the honks from the supporters driving by and chanted till our throats went raw, I think most of us felt like we were on a permanent high.
What happened inside the office was no less admirable. Students went up one by one to give their speech, standing for and with the teachers, and pouring every bit of emotion they had in the one-minute time slot they were allocated. Teachers explained their struggles with living with their parents, wanting to move away, and spending half of their meager salary on just healthcare. One woman named Jindu even looked directly at the Board Director Yang Shao as she announced her candidacy for City Council in November of 2018.
How can someone crash down from such a high? We felt like we were on the top of the world, losing our voices to scream in support for everyone who spoke and throwing the occasional dirty looks at the unsympathetic board members. But even after the whole movement, the walkout, the speeches, the chants, we were left as many students are after college rejection letters go out: devastated.
The death of a dream is not an easy thing to cope with. The simple words, “No salary increases” shown on the 2018-2019 budget plan were shattering. In our minds, we knew that it wasn’t highly likely that we would achieve something. But that little idealistic voice in our heads was silenced for once.
It truly hurts. It hurts to see how the board members, sitting with their soft chairs and cushy salaries, brush aside our struggles and voices and refuse to recognize them in the first place. It hurts to see the determination leave a friend’s eyes. It hurts to feel your heart stop, even if it’s just for one second because you are hopeful only to be heartbroken.
To all the board members, I want to tell you just one thing; The teachers that you have brushed aside? Those teachers have students, and those students are going to learn about the power of their voice. When the elections come in November, I seriously believe that you do NOT stand a chance.
There is no silencing us. You want to quench the flame? We will come back, burning brighter than ever. You want to cover our mouths? Our bark is just as bad as our bite. We have already had two walkouts this year. Do you think we’d be averse to having a third? If there’s one thing that growing up in the 2000’s has taught us, it is the power of our voice.
To all the students, I leave you with three words: use your voice. The longer we let people believe that our generation is lazy, entitled, and stupid, the longer we succumb to that stereotype. Your voice matters, and it’s up to you to believe it.
I’d like to end this with a quote from the speech I gave at the board meeting. “There is no price you can put on all the love and help and support the teachers give. But similarly, there is no measurement of how far our voices, student and teacher alike, will carry. You refuse to fix the holes in our system? Then you better get ready for us to take over and build a whole new system ourselves.”
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