Walking to Albany: Message in motion from Saranac Lake teacher

Press Republic-5 years before

Saranac Lake Central School teacher Maria DeAngelo, who walked to Albany over four days to emphasize a need for changes in education, said both were swollen after her long trek.

DeAngelo, who teaches sixth-grade math and science, is back in the classroom after making a special hand delivery to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office on Monday.

“I walked 8.5 hours the first day, 12 hours the second day, 13 the third and 4.5 the last day,” she told the Press-Republican.

In each span of time, she traversed 38 miles, 48 miles, 48 miles and 17 miles, respectively, from Saranac La...e to Albany.

DeAngelo undertook her “Walk in Our Shoes” effort to deliver student artwork with messages to Cuomo, who was in Cuba Monday when she arrived.

Through small Adirondack towns and in cities, she met with supporters and fellow walkers along the way.

“When I was walking with people, there was a lot of really positive communication,” DeAngelo shared.

Walking and talking became part of the journey, something she had hoped to inspire with the trek.

Walking troupes joined DeAngelo in Keene, Schroon Lake, Saratoga Springs, Warrensburg and Queensbury, among other towns. Their signs offered support for her message and the journey.

“As we went, more people would meet us along the way," DeAngelo told the Press-Republican. "They’d walk as far or as little as they wanted to. And we talked. 

"Mostly we talked about our kids — many were parents. And we talked about our students; it was a really open dialogue. 

“People agreed that conversation between schools and the state (lawmakers) needs to be respectful, (and) there are things that need to be fixed. Everyone shared the idea that, yes, it’s time for a respectful dialogue. 

DeAngelo’s "Walk in Our Shoes" focused attention on overall state education spending and losses that schools throughout New York have sustained since 2010.

Part of the disconnect, she says, is that budget-builders and Cuomo aren’t paying attention to what teachers are saying about funding loss and how it is hurting the students and school programs.

“We’re the folks down here doing it. What would be wrong with listening to what teachers believe sound education is?” she asked.

“Anyone can read what they want into the point I was making. But this is about respect. We can have a difference of opinion, but this is about respect and the constitutional guarantee that every child in New York has a right to a free and equitable education.”

What’s happened, DeAngelo said, is that when the so-called temporary Gap Elimination Adjustment went through in 2010, cutting state aid to schools, the money was funneled away from public education to pay for other things. 

“Across New York state, a total $5.9 billion has been taken from public education. And each year, districts had to make cuts to adjust for the loss,” she said.

Schools that require lower amounts of state aid are pitted against education mandates in ways different from poorer, often more rural, school districts.

“When you start to pull education apart, think about where those strings are going to lead to.”

“We stopped at (Interstate 87) Exit 30, stayed at a bed and breakfast the first night,” DeAngelo said.

“I walked up to the door of where we were staying and then started out from that door the next day,” DeAngelo said.

“I ate as I moved; we had trail butter, water, Gatorade, things that were portable. I would focus usually 4 miles in front of me.”

DeAngelo’s husband, Matt, drove alongside in a yellow jeep, providing sustenance and extra shoes.

"The best parts of the whole thing were these important conversations, talking with people and hearing people behind me talking, getting that idea that, yes, we deserve respect for the profession. 

Colleagues welcomed her back to school, snapping photos of her in math class, preparing for three upcoming sessions of math assessment testing.

“Obviously, I'm so proud of Maria's accomplishment, but I'm equally moved by how much the school communities in the Tri-Lakes and all along her route — including parents and others — poured out their support,” Saranac Lake Central teacher Don Carlisto said.

“Maria’s walk is a timely reminder that grassroots, direct action by concerned and caring people is our best hope to protect the schools we cherish,” he said.

Officials from the New York State Unified Teachers union met DeAngelo outside the Capitol building. 

They chronicled the final few hundred steps up the ornate “million dollar” staircase to the “War Room” adjoining the governor’s executive office.

“DeAngelo presented a representative of the governor with a portfolio of drawings of sneakers from students in Saranac Lake and other districts along her route.

"The outside of the portfolio bore the same words spoken by DeAngelo as she handed over the artwork: ‘Please walk in our shoes,'” the union said in a news release.

For DeAngelo, the next “step” after reaching the Capitol was to visit family nearby for an afternoon’s rest.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

Read the full story

Related Tags