CRYSTAL LAKE – Two IEA members were special guests of President Joe Biden when he made his appearance at McHenry County College last week.
Karen Shuman, president of the McHenry County College Adjunct Faculty Association, and Mike Sayre, a member of the High School District 155 Education Association, were able to meet the President during his visit to Crystal Lake.
Sayre was invited by the President to attend after he wrote a letter to President Biden about how hard it is to find affordable childcare. President Biden addressed Sayre directly during his comments at the college. Shuman was a guest of IEA.
Biden visited the community college to promote his “Build Back Better” plan, which offers free community college for first-time students, increases Pell Grants, builds an apprenticeship program, ensures access to free preschool, builds wraparound supports such as child care at community colleges, as well as other programs Biden has called an investment in the American people.
Sayre, a single father and high school teacher, wrote a three-sentence letter to the President on Sun., July 4, noting how difficult it is to find before-school care for his 9-year-old twins. The White House reached out to him on Monday and asked him to attend President Biden’s appearance. Sayre and his twins were able to meet the President and speak with him briefly.
“He told me his story about being a single parent of young kids and said he really wants to help with childcare costs,” Sayre said. “I’m going into my second year of being a single parent and doing this and it occurs to me how much this affects my students – how many don’t come to school because they are taking care of their siblings, making lunches, or holding their baby brother during Zoom calls and trying to do Math.”
Sayre said he thinks Biden truly believes in his plan and that he was encouraged about Biden’s plan to invest more money in school infrastructure, free community college and more dual credit classes.
“As an educator, I liked what he had to say,” Sayre said. “My kids are only nine now, but they’ll be college age one day and to get that springboard into the workforce would be amazing!”
For Shuman, an adjunct faculty member, she was able to make connections with politicians to help them understand some of the unique issues that adjuncts face, as well as meet the President.
“It was such an exciting experience. For me, it was like meeting the ultimate TV or movie star, I’m a political junkie,” Shuman said. “He was very sharp and very kind.”
She said she was touched by the fact that he mentioned years ago, people were blown away by the idea that students would one day have access to 12 years of free public education. Now, it’s the norm. So, expanding it to 14 by offering two years of free community college seems the logical next step.
“Civilization and cultures stop when they stop learning. Education is the cornerstone of strong economics, lower poverty, lower additions, lower self-harm, lower emotional distress, and he recognizes that and he highlighted it in his speech and all the contextual things around it – making sure people can get to school, afford child care as they return to school as adults. And, that’s how you build a great society,” Shuman said.
And, a key to that learning are adjunct faculty, who often have to string multiple jobs together to make the bare minimum salary. “Not going to change anything for adjunction faculty in higher education until we can talk to politicians and help them understand. Adjuncts are treated unfairly in the culture of their schools and in the understanding of their community.” Shuman hopes connections made at the event will help their plight.
The 135,000 member Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA) is the state’s largest education employee’s organization. IEA represents preK-12 teachers outside of the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.