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10 Questions with Kooper, CEA’s New Executive Director  

10 Questions with Kooper Caraway, CEA’s New Executive Director  

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in organizing/labor? 

I come from a union family. My family were indigenous steelworkers from the South – working class. I started off working at a warehouse in Texas, and I joined my union and became a steward when I was a teenager. I’ve stayed in the labor movement ever since. I never thought about pursuing a career, it was just part of my life since I was born. I knew I wanted to fight for people in my community and my family.  

 

Who are your labor heroes, and why?

Lucy Parsons was a black and indigenous woman and organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World. She and her husband helped to lead the 8-hour day struggle in Chicago, and her husband was executed for his role in it. Also, Frank Little who was an indigenous mine worker and organizer in Montana and across the West. He didn’t have anything, he had very little support, and he was going from mine to mine and having a lot of success in very difficult conditions. He was lynched in Montana when he was around my age, but he gave his life for people like me, so I will always respect that.  

 

How does CEA’s organizational mission align with your values? 

CEA is moving towards being at the forefront of being a dynamic educator-lead union. There’s a growing wave of educator-lead unions taking a new organizing approach across the country – the Chicago teacher’s union, UTLA, and CEA. I grew up in public school, and my daughter goes to public school, and my other daughter will go to public school. I want those schools to be good and the workers to be treated well. More personally, I grew up poor and working class. I went to four or five different middle schools and five different high schools because my family would move around wherever the jobs were. There were times in middle school when I was homeless and sleeping on strangers’ couches or in the car. School was a place of solace, not because schools in Alabama, South Carolina, or Texas had the resources they needed because they don’t, but because the educators cared very much about their students. When you’re a kid and living the kind of life many children have to live, a little bit of care and concern can go a long way. We get caught up in the big ideas of policy and pay raises, but for working-class kids, that few minutes [of concern and compassion from an educator] can really mean the world. Part of what I want to do is pay that back. A lot has been given to me by educators and education workers; they fought for me, and I want to fight for them.  

 

While you were a student, did you have any educators who made a difference in your life?  

I had a history teacher in Houston, Texas, who was one of the first folks to make me feel really seen as a whole human. At the time, we had these terrible history textbooks. So he came in, threw the textbooks away, and passed out textbooks from the University of Houston and said we would be using those. He spoke a lot of truth to my lived experience and was very open about this country’s history and structure, trusting us with that knowledge.  

 

What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work? 

I’m a family person. I want to be with my family, daughter, and partner. My daughter goes to an art school, and I like to support her. I like to take the family to museums and other historical places. My daughter and I like to play laser tag. Anything I can do to be surrounded by my family.  

 

What about CEA’s membership inspires you/motivates you the most? 

My first week on the job was Delegate Assembly, so I got to meet folks from around the state who are doing all kinds of different and important work. I saw in each of them the same folks who helped me and guided me when I was going through the difficult periods that I was going through in childhood. It’s the same folks, it’s the same look in the eye, the same concern. While Delegate Assembly is a political event – there are differing opinions and things like that – underneath all that is a lot of love and concern for community and the children, and I saw all that. It was really inspiring. Every hand I shook, every pair of eyes I looked into were the ones who had my back when I was a kid, and I’m honored to fight with them.  

 

Are there any books, podcasts, or other media that have had a profound impact on your personal or professional development? 

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a standard. My favorite authors are James Baldwin – he has a way of painting things in a way that makes the reader feel seen and validated; Dostoevsky – he and Baldwin are very similar, and it’s wild to read them back to back because these are writers that span 100-200 years apart. They’re describing very similar experiences humanely. Also, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is important because a lot of historical accounts and analyses are from another perspective, and it’s important to recognize that people have been here for a very long time and have a different experience and perspective.  

 

Can you share a piece of advice or wisdom that has guided you throughout your career journey? 

I’ve organized workers all over the world in what appear to be very difficult and different conditions. It can seem like things are very different for a Colorado educator than for a 13-year-old sweatshop worker in Bangladesh. But there’s something in common that everyone has around the world. Working people, for the most part, want very similar things. They want time with their families, peace in their lives, and they want to be able to provide. That’s a thing that connects all of us. In labor, we call that invisible force that connects all of us solidarity. It’s not just a word, it’s a force I’ve seen and felt all over the place. I think it’s something that we can lean on whenever we get too caught up in the weeds, in a foggy situation, or when we’re overwhelmed. We can remember that we’re part of a 10,000-year-old struggle. Workers have been struggling as long as there have been bosses, and I think we can find solace in history and lean on the force that we call solidarity.  

 

Can you describe a meaningful interaction or connection you’ve made with a member of CEA? 

I have to shout out the retiree leaders. Several CEA-R folks came up to me at Delegate Assembly, took me aside, and had a list prepared for me of concerns or changes they want to see made. What it shows is that they care very much about their union. These are folks who have been in an organization for their entire professional career, they retire, and they remain active members of an organization in their retirement. That’s inspiring. It takes a special kind of organization to maintain that level of commitment and loyalty. Every conversation I’ve had with the retirees, whether that’s been welcoming me, providing a list of changes they want to see, or sharing their opinions, has meant the world to me. Our elders carry a wealth of experience; for every elder that we have who’s been in CEA for 50-60 years, the value they bring is equivalent to an entire library. They have so much experience, knowledge, and wisdom to draw from. Those interactions have meant a lot to me.  

 

Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that shaped your leadership style? 

I was in Cambodia, and there was a union of 90% women in the service industry who worked at these giant gold casinos where South Asian billionaires come to gamble. This union of workers, who were half my height and had very little labor protections in the country, were on strike. They would show up to a picket line, and the military would be waiting for them. The military would put them on buses and drive them 30 miles outside of the city and push them off the bus, and they’d have to walk back home. They did this over and over, every day. We were trying to figure out what to do because the strike was stagnating, and eventually, we came to the conclusion that the workers were going to have to stop getting on the bus. People were scared; married couples and partners were making decisions about who would show up to the strike because they didn’t want to lose both of their children’s parents. They would show up, and the military would respond violently, and this would happen day after day. Eventually the UN came in to monitor the strike, and the workers were able to picket peacefully without being forced onto the bus. What that taught me is that working people all over have a threshold of conditions that they’re willing to tolerate. Once they reach that threshold, they will be willing to take risks. I think seeing these courageous women show up day after day and being beaten up by the military and continuing to do it day after day shows that there’s a strength and resilience that’s in all of us. It’s the leadership’s and the union’s job to help folks find it, but it’s there.  

 

 

 

Celebrating Arab American Heritage: Resources for both in and out of the classroom

Celebrating Arab American Heritage: Resources for both in and out of the classroom

 

Arab American Heritage Month is a time dedicated to celebrating the rich heritage and invaluable contributions of Arab Americans both past and present. It serves as a poignant reminder to honor their remarkable achievements and recognize their significant impact on our nation. Additionally, this month stands as an opportunity to confront and combat Anti-Arab bigotry, challenging stereotypes and prejudices that persist in our society. Together, let us celebrate diversity and promote inclusivity, fostering a culture of understanding and acceptance for all.

It’s important to understand that the term “Arab” transcends mere geographical boundaries; it’s a cultural and linguistic designation that encompasses a diverse array of peoples and traditions. The Arab world comprises 22 countries spanning the Middle East and North Africa, united by their membership in the Arab League. From Algeria to Yemen, these nations share a common heritage and language, fostering a rich tapestry of culture and history.

In the United States, the Arab American community is a vibrant and integral part of our society, comprising approximately 3.7 million individuals, according to the Arab American Institute. In Colorado alone, over 42,000 people proudly trace their roots to Arab ancestry, with communities hailing from nations such as Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Morocco, and Jordan. In Denver, nearly 7,200 individuals proudly claim Arab heritage, with over 3,000 households in Denver county reporting Arabic as their spoken language at home in 2019.

As we celebrate National Arab American Heritage Month, let us not only honor the achievements of Arab Americans but also reaffirm our commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and mutual respect. By recognizing and embracing the richness of Arab American heritage, we strengthen the fabric of our nation and uphold the ideals of unity in diversity that lie at the core of the American experience.

Together, let us celebrate the vibrant tapestry of Arab American culture and heritage, ensuring that their contributions are acknowledged and cherished for generations to come.

Check out all the resources below, which include exhibitions, lesson plans, recommended reading, and more, for use both in and out of the classroom.

Prominent Arab Americans who made an impact on Public Education and Workers’ Rights 

  • Helen Thomas: A pioneering journalist of Lebanese descent, Helen Thomas made significant contributions to public education through her groundbreaking work as a White House correspondent, enlightening the public about political affairs for decades.
  • Linda Sarsour: Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour has been a vocal advocate for social justice and educational reform, particularly focusing on issues affecting marginalized communities within the American education system.
  • Donna Shalala: Former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, Donna Shalala, of Lebanese descent, has been a key figure in public education policy, advocating for initiatives to improve access to quality education for all Americans.
  • George Mitchell: Of Lebanese descent, George Mitchell, a former U.S. Senator, played a pivotal role in brokering peace agreements and advocating for labor rights throughout his career, contributing to advancements in labor unions and international diplomacy.
  • Dalia Mogahed: A prominent Muslim-American scholar and activist, Dalia Mogahed has been a vocal advocate for education reform and social justice, working to empower marginalized communities and promote interfaith understanding within educational settings.
  • Anousheh Ansari: Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American engineer and space explorer, immigrated to the United States as a child. She has since become a leading advocate for STEM education, particularly for girls and underrepresented minorities, inspiring future generations to pursue careers in science and technology.
  • Ralph Nader: Known for his consumer advocacy work, Ralph Nader, of Lebanese descent, has been a prominent figure in public education, advocating for improved safety standards and consumer rights.

 

Reading List

Throughout the month, and all year long, we encourage families, educators, and students to dive into a book about the history, culture, and experiences of the Arab community. The suggestions below are just a few of many titles, with works of fiction and non-fiction for every grade level that feature characters and perspectives that are often not reflected in other popular works. We hope you will enjoy reading and learning from these outstanding stories.

Early Readers (Grades PK–2)

  • The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story, by Aya Khalil; illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan
  • Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid, by Victoria Tentler-Krylov
  • The Butter Man, by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou; illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli
  • The Cat Man of Aleppo, by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha; illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
  • The Day Saida Arrived, by Susana Gómez Redondo; illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
  • Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya
  • Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story, by Reem Faruqi; illustrated by Lea Lyon
  • Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey, by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes; illustrated by Sue Cornelison
  • Salma the Syrian Chef, by Danny Ramadan; illustrated by Anna Bron
  • The Story of Hurry, by Emma Williams; illustrated by Ibrahim Quraishi

Elementary (Grades 3–5)

  • Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq, by Mark Alan Stamaty
  • Farah Rocks Fifth Grade, by Susan Muaddi Darraj; illustrated by Ruaida Mannaa
  • A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History, by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi
  • Muslim Girls Rise: Inspirational Champions of Our Time, by Saira Mir; illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel
  • Shad Hadid and the Alchemists of Alexandria, by George Jreije
  • Silverworld, by Diana Abu-Jaber
  • The Three Lucys, by Hayan Charara; illustrated by Sara Kahn
  • The Treasure of Maria Mamoun, by Michelle Chalfoun
  • The Turtle of Oman, by Naomi Shihab Nye; illustrated by Betsy Peterschmidt
  • Yusra Swims, by Julie Abery and Sally Deng

Middle School (Grades 6–8)

  • Escape from Aleppo, by N.H. Senzai
  • A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, by Zeina Abirached
  • Habibi, by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Muhammad Najem, War Reporter: How One Boy Put the Spotlight on Syria, by Muhammad Najem and Nora Neus; illustrated by Julie Robine
  • Nowhere Boy, by Katherine Marsh
  • Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed
  • Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga
  • Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, by Ibtisam Barakat
  • Wishing Upon the Same Stars, by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman
  • Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero, by Saadia Faruqi

Upper Grades (Grades 9–12)

  • All-American Muslim Girl, by Nadine Jolie Courtney
  • As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow, by Zoulfa Katouh
  • Here to Stay, by Sara Farizan
  • Here We Are Now, by Jasmine Warga
  • Huda F Are You? By Huda Fahmy
  • I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir, by Malaka Gharib
  • Mirage, by Somaiya Daud
  • Saints and Misfits, by S.K. Ali
  • A Stone in My Hand, by Cathryn Clinton
  • We Hunt the Flame, by Hafsah Faizal

Multimedia Resources

Resources for Educators

Empowering Colorado’s ESPs: Bringing NEA ESP Conference Insights Home

Empowering Colorado’s ESPs: Bringing NEA ESP Conference Insights Home

In the bustling city of Las Vegas, amidst the neon lights and vibrant energy, a group of education support professionals (ESPs) from Colorado attended the National Education Association ESP Conference. Among them was Andrea Cisneros, shining as Colorado’s 2024 NEA ESP of the Year Nominee, representing not only her own achievements and her local union, JESPA, but also the dedication and excellence of ESPs statewide. As they returned home, their suitcases were filled not just with souvenirs, but with invaluable insights and inspiration gained from the conference.

Colorado’s ESPs are the backbone of our public education system, providing support that ensures the smooth functioning of our schools. From assisting students with special needs to maintaining safe and welcoming learning environments, their contributions are immeasurable. Yet, all too often, their vital role goes unrecognized or undervalued. This is why events like the NEA ESP Conference hold immense significance – they shine a spotlight on the invaluable work of ESPs and equip them with the tools and knowledge needed to advocate for themselves and their profession.

Over three days, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a plethora of interactive workshops, each designed to enrich their knowledge, skills, and capacity to advocate for students and educators. From championing racial and social justice to fostering community relationships and strengthening local unions, the conference offered a comprehensive toolkit to advance the cause of public education.

One notable session was led by our very own Vicki Flores and Zander Kaschub from theJeffco Education Support Professionals Association and Coloradans for the Common Good. In their presentation titled “Building Collective Power to Win Healthy School Meals,” attendees had the chance to delve into the impactful work of advocating for healthy school meals and a substantial wage increase for workers. From their involvement in advocating for Colorado’s Proposition FF to negotiating a pioneering healthy food pilot program, Flores and Kaschub shared valuable insights into how they mobilized their community to effect positive change in school meal programs. Their session exemplified the power of collective action and community engagement in transforming educational environments for the well-being of students and workers alike.

Supporting our ESPs isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s essential for the future of public education. As the backbone of our schools, ESPs play a vital role in creating an environment where every student can thrive. When ESPs feel valued and supported, they are better equipped to fulfill their responsibilities, leading to improved outcomes for students and stronger, more resilient communities.

Investing in ESPs today ensures the sustainability and success of our public education system tomorrow. By providing opportunities for professional growth and advancement, we not only attract talented individuals to the profession but also retain experienced professionals who are committed to serving our students and communities.

As we reflect on the significance of the NEA ESP Conference and the contributions of Colorado’s ESPs, let us reaffirm our commitment to supporting and uplifting these essential members of the education workforce. By working together to advocate for their rights and recognition, we can create a brighter future for public education in Colorado and beyond. After all, when we invest in ESPs, we invest in the success of our students, our schools, and our future.

 

 

School Finance Act Passes First Hurdle with Complete Buydown of B.S. Factor, Investment in Rural Schools

School Finance Act Passes First Hurdle with Complete Buydown of B.S. Factor, Investment in Rural Schools

The Colorado Education Association’s (CEA) nearly 40,000 members have tirelessly advocated for additional funding for Colorado’s education system for years. Today, the School Finance Act, SB24-188, passed out of the Senate Education Committee and includes a complete buy down of the Budget Stabilization Factor and investments in rural schools. The vote count was 7-0.

“Today’s historic investment in Colorado’s education system is the first step towards the fully funded future our students, educators and communities deserve,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and President of CEA. “Not only does the School Finance Act allocate substantial resources to enhance educational opportunities for our children, it also sets the stage for a comprehensive reimagining of the educational landscape. This investment holds the promise of fostering greater equity, innovation and excellence throughout our schools, empowering students to thrive, educators to excel and communities to flourish.”

Some highlights of the 2024-2025 School Finance Act include:

  • The buy down of the B.S. Factor to $0
  • A rural factor that will provide ongoing additional funding for rural school districts
  • A $420 per-pupil funding increase, bringing base per-pupil funding to $8,496.38

“While the complete buy down of the B.S. Factor and a historic investment in our rural schools are cause for celebration, we must also remember that buying down the B.S. Factor will only return our schools to 1989 funding levels,” said Baca-Oehlert. “We need a permanent funding solution that prioritizes distributing and allocating resources among our schools and communities sustainably and equitably. With a fully funded education system, we can provide our children with the exceptional education that they deserve.”

Amie Baca-Oehlert Testifying on Public School Finance Act

Amie Baca-Oehlert Testifying on Public School Finance Act

 

Empowering Educators: Colorado Leaders at the 2024 NEA National Leadership Summit

Empowering Educators: Colorado Leaders at the 2024 NEA National Leadership Summit

 

Education. Democracy. Freedom. Our Right! Our Responsibility! These guiding principles inspired over 1,600 passionate educators who gathered in Chicago from March 1-3 for the 2024 NEA National Leadership Summit. Among them were leaders from across Colorado, eager to gain knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for leading thriving unions and excelling in their professions.

Throughout the summit, Colorado members actively engaged in interactive breakout sessions led by member leaders from around the country. From advocacy to social-emotional intelligence, these sessions weren’t just about imparting knowledge; they were about empowering educators to become leaders for change in their communities.

We were proud to have Colorado members lead several sessions at this summit. Jefferson County Education Association member Michelle Moehlis and CEA Director of Digital Communications, Sydney Slifka, delivered an impactful session titled “Bringing Everyone to the Table: Engaging Members and Community in Collective Bargaining.” Their presentation, backed by expertise and experience, addressed a critical question: How do we ensure every member is involved in collective bargaining, thereby strengthening our union and amplifying our collective voice? Moehlis and Slifka outlined actionable steps, including messaging plans, escalation strategies, and innovative organizing tactics, that resonated deeply with attendees.

 

CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert also made a significant contribution to the summit by presenting on “Leadership Development for State Affiliate Presidents: Best Practices for Supporting Leaders.” In this session, she emphasized the pivotal role of state affiliate presidents in NEA’s new emphasis on budgeting resources and rethinking strategies to build an effective system of leadership development. Baca-Oehlert underscored the importance of transitioning from the traditional role of a “hero” leader to that of a “host,” fostering engagement and sustainability within a network of leaders at all levels. The session provided state presidents with invaluable insights and tools to elevate their leadership and empower members to drive positive change within their communities.

Beyond structured sessions, the summit buzzed with energy as educators from Colorado connected during caucus and council meetings, state connection sessions, and networking opportunities. These informal interactions fostered collaboration and solidarity, reinforcing the collective power of educators in driving positive change.

                        

In retrospect, the 2024 NEA National Leadership Summit was more than a conference for Colorado educators; it was a transformative experience. It underscored the vital role of leadership and collaboration in advancing the cause of public education. As they return to their communities, Colorado educators carry not just knowledge but also a renewed sense of purpose and determination to effect positive change. Together, they are committed to upholding the principles of education, democracy, and freedom—for they are not just rights but also responsibilities we all share in building a brighter future for generations to come.

 

 

Standing Up for Colorado Educators: Labor Roundtable with Doug Emhoff

Standing Up for Colorado Educators: Labor Roundtable with Doug Emhoff

In a step towards tackling the pressing issues in public education across Colorado, members of the Colorado Education Association recently engaged in a crucial conversation at the Colorado Labor Leaders Roundtable, joined by Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. This meeting served as a platform to shed light on the challenges faced by public workers around the state, including educators, healthcare workers, and public service employees, emphasizing the urgent need for action and engaging in productive dialogue about solutions and support.

 

During conversation, Amber Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of the CEA, stressed the crucial role educators play in shaping the future. She shared concerning statistics from the CEA’s State of Education report: 58% of educators are considering leaving the profession, with 55% citing inadequate pay and benefits, and 50% struggling to afford housing. Wilson’s remarks highlight the pressing need to address these challenges, ensuring educators feel valued and supported in their vital work.

We extend our gratitude to the Colorado Democratic Party for providing this opportunity for educators voices to be heard, and to Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff for his time and involvement with the Biden-Harris administration’s work in Colorado.