by Mike Myslinski and Rowena Russo
CTA officers and Human Rights Award recipients: (back row, left to right) Paul Stickland, New Haven Teachers Association; Don Steinruck, Del Norte Teachers Association; Tim Paulson, Davis Teachers Association; CTA Vice President Dean Vogel; CTA President David A. Sanchez; CTA Secretary-Treasurer Dan Vaughn; Cherie Amir and Larry Lamadrid, Lennox Teachers Association; (front row, left to right) Ben Cassel, Sweetwater Education Association; Bruce Lee, United Teachers Association Los Angeles; Sandra Thornton, Stockton Teachers Association; Lynette Henley, Vallejo Teachers Association; Claudia Riley, Newark Teachers Association.
The 560 CTA members who attended the 18th annual CTA Equity and Human Rights Conference in March experienced through various workshops and in a ceremony honoring colleagues with special awards how important it is to carry on the union's mission of advocating for tolerance, diversity and civil rights.
In his keynote speech, CTA President David A. Sanchez stressed how vital the workshops were. Among many other topics, the workshops covered women's issues, GLBT issues, how to enhance ethnic awareness in our schools, the importance of fighting for human rights and equity issues in public education and society, and strategies on special education and diversity in education issues.
"It's a strong agenda, and it's the right agenda," Sanchez said of the conference's offerings. "And it does reflect the core values in the CTA mission statement — to ensure that the dignity and civil rights of all children and youth are protected and to secure a more equitable and democratic society."
Sanchez was joined by Vice President Dean E. Vogel and Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Vaughn in welcoming and honoring the following 10 winners of CTA's standing awards for human rights activists in the public schools.
César Chávez "Sí Se Puede" Human Rights Award: Ben Cassel, Sweetwater Education Association. In Chula Vista, Cassel is president of Water Station Inc., which maintains more than 360 lifesaving water stations along the migrant wilderness trails near the Mexican border in San Diego and Imperial counties, where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees. "Migrants and hikers can easily become disoriented and perish," Sanchez said. "Most are never identified and lie buried in a nearby cemetery. Thanks to Ben's work, these numbers of deaths have dropped, despite increasing numbers of border crossings."
CTA Member Human Rights Award: Tim Paulson, Davis Teachers Association. A dedicated school psychologist and counselor, Paulson was hailed for bringing CTA's "Unconscious Bias" training to Davis Unified, where all education community stakeholders worked to uncover hidden biases in order to improve the district's climate of teaching and learning.
CTA Peace and Justice Human Rights Award: Larry Lamadrid and Cherie Amir, Lennox Teachers Association. The winners of this new award worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the low wages and poor working conditions of the hotel workers of the Hilton Los Angeles Hotel and other hotels along Century Boulevard next to Los Angeles International Airport. Lamadrid and Amir made a difference; several hotels eventually signed collective bargaining agreements that improved working conditions.
Jim Clark American Indian/Alaska Native Human Rights Award: Don Steinruck, Del Norte Teachers Association. Steinruck is a role model for teachers and tribal students attending his Smith River School in Del Norte County. He preserves his tribal heritage with the active help of his family through dance, basket-making and teaching the Tolowa-Deeni language.
Lois Tinson Human Rights Award: Sandra J. Thornton, Stockton Teachers Association. Active in the African American community, she underscores the importance of a good education while encouraging students and parents to be partners on the path to academic achievement.
Nancy Bailey Leadership in Gay and Lesbian Issues Human Rights Award: Paul Stickland, New Haven Teachers Association. Stickland has been an advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) issues for all of his adult life. He is a CTA human rights contact, a High Risk Training Cadre member and a former chair of the GLBT Issues Advisory Committee.
Pacific Asian American Human Rights Award: Bruce A. Lee, United Teachers Los Angeles. A former NEA director, Lee has taught for more than 36 years and said he "works in education because it is always an adventure." He is a past president of the San Gabriel Valley Chinese Cultural Association, and is well-known for performing as the lion head in many parades and before the CTA State Council.
Physically/Mentally Challenged Students' Issues Human Rights Award: Claudia E. Riley, Newark Teachers Association. An adaptive PE specialist for 30 years, Riley each year takes a group of her secondary special-needs students camping overnight to build their self-esteem and confidence.
Women's Issues Human Rights Award: Lynette P. Henley, Vallejo Teachers Association. As the minority-at-large member of the CTA Board of Directors and chair of the Women's Caucus, Henley has been an advocate for women for many years. She was honored for using her gift of finding common ground despite people's differences.
Conference workshops were well attended, including one about the 10-year-old Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project partnership www.teachervisits.org, which began with the help of educators in the Sacramento City Unified School District. The successful program has expanded to 345 California public schools and is designed to build trust and accountability between families and teachers.
"I found it to be very worthwhile," said Agustina Noble, a teacher in the Hayward Unified School District, who participated in the Home Visit workshop. "It provided me with ideas that I can bring back to my colleagues. The whole conference was like that."