Candidates for state representation discuss education

CHICOPEE — After 31 years of service, State Representative Joseph Wagner announced in February that he would not seek re-election for the Hampden 8th District seat. His vacancy leaves three candidates vying for the position ahead of the November election, Ward 1 Councilman Joel McAuliffe, former At-Large City Council candidate Shirley Arriaga and former At-Large City Council candidate Sean Goonan. .

McAuliffe and Arriaga are Democratic candidates, while Goonan is running for office as an independent candidate. McAuliffe and Arriaga will face each other in a September 6 primary before the November 8 general election.

Ahead of both elections, Reminder Publishing will be asking each candidate questions on its platforms. For this edition, the candidates highlight how they will approach education in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
Reminder Edition: Educational entities continue to bridge the gap caused by the coronarvirus pandemic. In addition to addressing the ongoing ramifications of COVID-19, including learning loss, increased mental health issues and educational equity, what educational initiatives will you champion if elected? ?

Arriaga: Once elected, I will advocate for additional funding to help bridge the education gap we currently experience. Chicopee, like many other communities, has not been immune to the effects of Covid-19. The pandemic has exacerbated the cracks in our education system and our community at large. Rather, the coronavirus pandemic has simply shone a light on a system that was already in jeopardy. Education is the key to everything, and our children deserve the best. This is why education will be one of my top priorities once elected.

Our teachers and school administrators are overwhelmed and need support. We need to increase our current budget to hire and retain more teachers, paraprofessionals, substitutes and mental health counsellors. We need to provide our school department with the tools to get through this difficult time and help them physically and emotionally. Reducing the student/teacher ratio, managing expectations, providing teaching and learning resources, and technology that works will help create a positive work environment. Additionally, we need to ensure that our educators have time to do work outside of teaching and community support.

Once elected, one of the educational initiatives I will champion is the expansion of our curriculum to create more career paths for our high school students. We need to strengthen our STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and technical programs. These are necessary for the success of our students. By exposing them to creative processes, hands-on learning, inclusion in the classroom, and increased critical thinking, their social skills will be strengthened. These are some of the things that have been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. STEM opens up opportunities and encourages girls to explore careers in STEM. I seek to stimulate and encourage learning through methods proven to help our students succeed. As the next state representative, here are some of the things I look forward to championing in Hampden’s 8th District.

Goonan: Every parent wants their children to discover the world and lead a happy and successful life. Every child is thirsty to seek knowledge and understand the world. We all want a cohesive community of educated people working together to make it work and thrive… So why do we keep throwing money at our colossal, broken failure of an education system? I have seen what happens first hand as a substitute teacher for the Chicopee public school system and I respect all teachers who have tried to do their best in this defeatist and frustrating system. I don’t want to target Chicopee schools when I talk about the failures of the education industry as a whole.

Education is dominated by compulsory schooling imposed by the government. If elected, I will fight to decentralize power and control away from state (and federal) government and bring power to the community and family level by providing a variety of other options. Private schools and homeschooling should be less regulated by state-imposed curriculum and requirements. Standardized tests must be abolished. Money wasted by useless administrators must be transferred for the benefit of students. Public and private education should be tailored to the expectations and needs of individual families and communities, with the state curriculum and teaching methods made more flexible.

The required six and a half hours a day, 180 days a year for over 12 years of classroom instruction broken into disconnected 50-minute blocks is outdated and counterproductive to real learning. Many young people are disillusioned because school is not working for them, and they may also feel disconnected from the “real world” being stuck in a classroom. Also, children do better when they are motivated to learn rather than forced. I think the solution is to encourage independent learning in real life, learning in the community, community service opportunities, alternative schools, or even to create dynamic school/library/community center/center for seniors in neighborhoods, which will allow people of all ages to have a place to learn and interact.

Loneliness is also important for young people, and they don’t get enough of it, or enough quality time with their families. That’s why I want to relax mandatory attendance requirements and make school more flexible for families. The education industry and its politicians want to expand compulsory public education into the summer and at a younger age, removing children from their families for longer periods of time, but the disintegration of family and community over the last century is partly the direct result of removing children from the home and shifting all responsibility for education to the government, in addition to falling wages and both parents having to work harder long hours. We need to rethink what education and success really mean and free ourselves from the common perception that this monolith of a school industry is the only way and that its failures can be solved by spending billions more.

McAuliffe: One of the proudest days of my work in the State Senate was the day we passed the Student Opportunity Act (SOA). The SOA has fundamentally changed the way we fund schools in our state and means millions more dollars to support Chicopee Public Schools. As a state representative, I will fight to ensure it is fully funded so that our schools have all the resources they need to educate our children in the current climate. This means funding for more teachers, paraprofessionals, interventionists, therapists – and more to meet the needs of today’s students.

We also know that the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected students who were most at risk of falling behind. Data shows that 60% of students in some very poor schools have been identified as being at high risk for reading problems, twice as many students as before the pandemic. To help these students catch up, the state must support targeted interventions, especially in school districts like Chicopee.

And while the coronavirus pandemic puts students already in school at a higher risk of falling behind, we also know that the lack of preschool education for children does the same. Numerous studies show that children who attend kindergarten do much better in school than those who do not. The first five years of a child’s life are the most important — and make a difference for the rest of that child’s life. Universal early education is the single most important thing we can do to improve educational outcomes in communities and raise all of our children.

Here at Chicopee, we’ve been offering preschool classes to a limited number of children for many years — and we’ll soon be expanding those offerings to include programs in some of our elementary schools with one-time federal funds. But still, far too many Chicopee families are excluded from this vital resource. As a state representative, I will fight to make free public preschool accessible to all children in Chicopee. This is something we need to do in our city, but across the Commonwealth. Massachusetts has opened the nation’s first free public high school, and it’s high time to do the same with a public kindergarten for all.

Another issue we need to address is the waiting lists at our vocational and technical high schools (CTEs), like Chicopee Comp, in our state. There is a skilled labor shortage in our state – in which students could graduate from high school with the skills to immediately join the workforce in high-paying jobs that start at 60 on average. $000 a year with no college debt. Not all children need to go to college, and we can address education and workforce concerns by expanding CTE programs and reducing wait lists.

Lucas E. Kelly