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RA 2010: Turning Hope Into Action

Delegates Gather in the Crescent City for NEA's Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly

July 1, 2010


By Cindy Long


The registration desks and exhibit hall buzzed with activity as attendees of NEA’s 148th Annual Meeting continued arriving, but the fun has been underway in New Orleans, Louisiana, since early this week.

Poignant moments marked the opening session of the NEA Student Leadership Conference on June 26.

First was the tribute to Jeffrey "J.D." Miller, an active NEA Student Program leader from Indiana who passed away in December 2009 after a long battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Even in the face of a serious illness, Miller's commitment to the teaching profession and NEA’s work did not waver.

“Even when he was sick, facing death, whenever I called to check on him he wanted to talk about his work with the NEA Student Program,” said Student Program Chair Jermaine Coleman. “J.D. elevated the meaning of the word dedication. You’re always striving to be someone like J.D.”

For that dedication, Miller was posthumously awarded the Student Program’s Carol Stowe Humanitarian Award. His parents, Jeffrey and Jean Miller, accepted on his behalf, bringing the audience of more than 300 students and NEA staff to their feet.

And then came another honor.

Back in 2007, Miller was the first recipient of the NEA Student Program’s Rookie Award, which recognizes the outstanding participation of an underclassman. The award was renamed the Jeffrey "J.D." Miller Outstanding Underclassman Award. Casey Burn of the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, is this year’s recipient.

Jeffrey told Tomorrow’s Teachers magazine in 2008 that he valued the NEA Student Program for its “community service activities, workshops on things like making college affordable, professional development, classroom discipline, networking skills—all things that we are going to need once we get out there in the teaching world.”

And that’s what special guest Manuel Scott wanted to talk to this room of future educators about—what they will need once they get into the teaching world. He knows that sometimes, a teacher will have students like he once was, whose lives are so shattered, they are just waiting to die or go to prison.

“I’m honored to be here,” Scott told the audience of future teachers, “because it was people like you who made a difference in my life.”

Scott credits a few key adults with saving him from a suicidal depression, namely a teacher he described as "big on ideas, short on experience and full of enthusiasm, almost at her own peril." That teacher was Erin Gruwell, and Manuel Scott was a member of the class whose story is told in the movie Freedom Writers.

Scott went from a .06 GPA to graduating from high school and earning acceptance to Berkeley. He is now a Ph.D. candidate.

NEA-Retired Conference

At the NEA-Retired conference, Sue Wiele from Davenport, Iowa, won the NEA-Retired Distinguished Service Award. Wiele began teaching in 1948, and to this day she volunteers in the classroom every week.

She started out teaching 1st and 2nd graders, and soon became a special education teacher. She volunteers countless hours in her community, does Read Across every year in her community and at the RA, cares for older friends and neighbors, makes dolls for sick children, and has tutored and mentored struggling students. Sue has been a Retired member for 20 years.

The Jack Kinnaman Scholarship was awarded to Raya Jean Zaczyk of New Hampshire. The Kinnaman Fund awards need-based scholarships to support students who want to become educators.

President Barbara Matteson shared a video with NEA-Retired annual meeting attendees. Her message to fellow retirees and all NEA members is to pay close attention to Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and not let the Administration ravage Social Security to reduce the federal deficit.

Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women

The annual Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women attracted more than 800 registrants. Active, retired, education support professionals (ESP), and higher education employees from across the country met June 28-29 at the Marriott Hotel.

“It’s always interesting to interact with people from other states,” said Pamela Bailey, an elementary school nurse and RA delegate with the California Teachers Association (CTA). “It helps you appreciate the things you have in your state and yearn for what you don’t have.”

The Joint Conference theme was, “Great Public Schools: Rebuilding the Promise by Transforming Public Education.” After attending several sessions on education and societal trends, best practices, and the recent attacks on civil rights and education in Arizona, Bailey says she is revved up more than ever for the RA.

“It’s shocking what is happening to education and human rights in some states,” Bailey said. “Today, it is Arizona. Tomorrow it could be California or any state. We (educators) can make a difference.”

Ginny Gong, author, cable television talk show host, and a former K-12 math teacher, spoke about cultural assimilation as a result of her being the daughter of Chinese immigrant parents who owned a laundry service in New York.

“After 56 years in the U.S., they still don’t speak English,” she said. “And my children don’t speak Chinese. I have to translate.”

Gong advised teachers to view their immigrant students as having unique bicultural and leadership skills.

“Many of them are raising their siblings while their parents work,” said Gong, who signed copies of her autobiography (“From the Ironing Board to the Corporate Board: My Chinese Laundry Experience in America”) following her Monday speech. “Many immigrant students are (English) translators for their parents’ medical needs and government service needs. They connect their families with the world. Consequently, they get very little guidance from their parents about school.”

Global Education Summit

Angelo Gavrielatos, NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen and Henry Hendricks (left to right) during the Global Education Summit.
Photo by Rick Runion for RA Today

At the 2010 Global Education summit July 1, sponsored by NEA’s International Relations department, delegates were joined by NEA president Dennis Van Roekel , Vice-President Lily Eskelsen, NEA’s international guests, and a host of partners to discuss efforts to improve public education around the world. In addition to learning about key topics such as gender equality and international solidarity, participants also learned in workshops new ways to integrate human rights and cross-cultural education in their classrooms.

Outreach to Teach

At Outreach to Teach, NEA’s annual school repair project, student and retired members repaired and beautified Belle Chasse High School, in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, one of the many communities outside of New Orleans forever changed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.

“It really hits home to bring this kind of support here,” says Brandan Trahan, a junior at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, and student leader of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

Belle Chasse sits at the northernmost point of the long, narrow Plaquemines Parish, whose southern stretch caught the worst of Katrina. And then the levees failed. Amidst the civic breakdown that ensued, Belle Chasse High School opened its doors wide, housing the displaced in the immediate aftermath and eventually absorbing four other parish high schools lost to the storm.

Photos: © 2010 Photos by Kevin Lock/NEA.
All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of the National Education Association

Education Jobs Fund

Although much of the Association’s attention is focused on the Annual Meeting’s activities in New Orleans, the critical work by NEA and state affiliates to pass the Education Jobs Fund continues. The U.S. House could take up the emergency supplemental legislation containing the $10 billion for education jobs by the end of this week. For more, visit

To keep up with annual meeting events and schedules, visit

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