Ana Luisa Zavala traveled to Tucson from Guaymas, Sonora, to help deal with the teachers’ strike.
By Tuesday, it was getting a little old.
Zavala was watching over five grandkids, cousins from different families, at a two-bedroom mobile home in the Sunnyside neighborhood.
“It’s tiresome,” Zavala said in Spanish, as the kids, ages 13-16, came outside.
They’d been watching television, reading, playing basketball and soccer, but it was hard to keep them entertained. Eighth-grader Antonio Romo, who normally attends Apollo Middle School, was helping out with the cleaning and taking out garbage.
The burden of the 4-day-old teachers’ strike has been especially heavy in the Sunnyside school district, on Tucson’s south side.
Families in the area tend to be poor, so the options for child care are limited, and on Monday the district became the first one to say it would remain closed all week.
That had grandmas like Zavala worried about how she would handle three more days, and parents scrambling for options.
But some relief came Tuesday evening.
That’s when leaders of the teachers’ movement said they would recommend that teachers go back to work once the Legislature passes a budget that includes money for an average 9 percent raise for teachers. That could be as soon as Thursday.
Sunnyside became an outlier because of a decision its administration made Monday in consultation with teachers’ leaders in the district.
The district was able to handle three days of closures and not add days at the end of the year because the accumulated instructional hours were sufficient.
But anything more would mean days had to be added to the end of the year. To do that, the district needed to stop paying teachers, who have been taking paid leave for the first few days of the walkout. That meant calling off the whole week and telling everyone but 12-month employees not to show up.
“We called it on behalf of the parents. We wanted them to be prepared for the rest of the week, just in case,” said Mary Martinez, president of the Sunnyside Education Association.
Throughout the Sunnyside district, and across Arizona, kids and parents were ad-libbing and making do. About two dozen students from Sunnyside and Desert View high schools arranged to meet at El Pueblo Activity Center Tuesday morning to play volleyball. Most play for their high school teams, and they were having a blast, planning to play for about four hours.
Eveline Felix, a Sunnyside junior, told me after she rotated out of a game, “I’m a student who loves school.”
She was anxious because she has three Advanced Placement exams coming up, but no opportunity to do organized preparation for the tests.
“I have to pay a lot for those tests, and why take a test you’re going to fail?” she asked.
Back in the mobile-home park where Zavala was watching her grandkids, Beatriz Arce was helping her mother take care of Arce’s 9-year-old nephew. Arce, a Desert View junior, was also nervous about an AP test.
“It’s been kind of hard not being at school,” she said, as they unloaded a cache of food from Costco. “ I miss my friends.”
But as was the case with all of the dozen people I talked with in Sunnyside Tuesday, Arce said she supported her teachers’ walkout. Sunnyside teachers got her started in music, and now she’s a percussionist in the marching band, she said.
“It doesn’t matter if we have to take more time in the summer,” she said. “It hurts, but it’s a sacrifice we have to do for them.”
Belen Sisk, the mother of a third-grader at Rivera Elementary School in Sunnyside, said she has taken her daughter with her to her job teaching at Desert Springs Children School for the last three days.
“She’s heartbroken, and she wants to be back with her teacher,” Sisk said.
Across her neighborhood, she said, she knew of kids who were home alone because their parents had to work.
But Sisk, too, is OK with the walkout. Her daughter’s class, she said, has 30 students and one teacher without an aide. It’s too much.
Now that the teachers’ movement leaders have decided the strike could end, the certainty that Sunnyside offered parents by calling off school this week may also take a twist. It’s possible, Martinez said, to start school up again despite that decision.
It would be a deep relief to Zavala and all the other grandparents, parents and students who’ve been forced to improvise their way through the days and supported striking teachers anyway.