NEA Vice President Becky Pringle had a homecoming of sorts during this year’s American Education Week celebration, when she returned to the Western Pennsylvania elementary school where she completed her student teaching in the 1970s.
Pringle joined PSEA President Mike Crossey to visit classrooms and read to students at Turner Elementary School in Wilkinsburg. They were hosted by Wilkinsburg EA President Mike Evans, Wilkinsburg ESP President Karla Lewis, Turner principal Tanya Smith, and other teachers and staff at the school.
Pringle shared memories from her days as a student teacher at Turner while finishing her studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education. She also holds a master’s degree in education from Pennsylvania State University.
Pringle and Crossey visited a fifth-grade science classroom where students were engaged in a botany lesson, observing and making predictions about the growth of alfalfa, mustard, and grass. Pringle, a physical science teacher from Susquehanna Township – just outside of Harrisburg, felt right at home chatting with students about their scientific observations and findings.
Continued struggles in the wake of funding cuts
She praised the dynamic and engaged teachers at Turner and the students who demonstrated a love for learning—but decried the toll Gov. Tom Corbett’s devastating school funding cuts have taken on the students at Turner. The Wilkinsburg Borough School District, home to a high percentage of low-income families, continues to struggle following more than $1 million in cuts to classroom funding in 2011 – more than $1,000 per student. Today, the district operates with $1.1 million less in state funding than it received four years ago.
Pringle said it is unacceptable, as one teacher told her, that Wilkinsburg students are using two-decade-old science textbooks because of funding cuts.
Showcasing their success
Despite many challenges, the students, parents, educators, and staff at Turner continue to strive for excellence – and succeed. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Turner Elementary had one of the highest point increases in Allegheny County on the newly released state School Performance Profiles.
During their visit, Pringle and Crossey observed a fifth-grade class preparing for the PSSAs by playing a game of “PSSA Basketball.” Students had five minutes to complete PSSA-like reading and math questions—and to show their work—in order to earn their team some time shooting baskets into a mini-hoop right there in the classroom. Every student in the class busily answered their questions to earn a few minutes of fun.
Pringle also visited a first-grade classroom to read “Green Eggs and Ham”.
“Is this one of your favorite books?” she asked the students, who responded with a resounding “Yes.” “This is one of my favorite books.”
Pringle delivered a dramatic performance of the Dr. Seuss favorite, inviting the children to join her to recite familiar lines. At the end of the book, she asked: “What’s the lesson of this story?” Several students offered variations of the same answer: it is important to try new foods. When Pringle asked if any students had tried new foods that they came to like, the answers came fast and excitedly: spaghetti, broccoli, pretzels, pizza.
“Pizza?” Pringle asked. “You didn’t know if you’d like pizza?”
The student responded: “Now it’s my favorite.”
Reflecting on the visit, Pringle said it is important to showcase the good news stories going on in public schools like Turner Elementary during American Education Week.
Pringle promised the educators and leaders she met that their stories, their school, and their students would inform and energize her work as she advocates for increased investments in high-quality public education for every child across Pennsylvania and the nation.