Educators took the first step in taking back our public education. Now youths in our community have an opportunity to fight for it as well.

This week, May 7-11, is Teacher Appreciation Week, and for Arizona this has a greater meaning this year. Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed a historic movement — #RedForEd — where Arizona teachers, school personnel, parents, students and community members joined forces to advocate for a quality education for Arizona students. Our teachers took the lead and put themselves on the frontline to advocate not only for themselves, but for their students.

As we reflect on what has happened, we feel it is important to reach out to our fellow students and share our thoughts as youth leaders who have been advocating for education through our participation in the Metropolitan Education Commission’s Youth Advisory Council/Tucson Teen Congress Program. As we watched the #RedForEd movement unfold, it was interesting to see how youth responded.

Some of us walked along side our teachers, some of us watched, some of us enjoyed the break from school and some of us were critical. We heard comments coming from youth stating that this movement was selfish, badly timed, not necessary and that they felt abandoned by their teachers. These perspectives are understandable because standing up for what you believe is sometimes not popular.

Arizona teachers have been working hard and waiting patiently for things to change, but the wait has gone on for too long and change was nowhere in sight. Despite the several walk-ins and rallies leading up to the walkout, Arizona legislators failed to respond, and our educators had to act.

The #RedForEd walkout was more than necessary; it was a response to years of neglect toward education in our state. We feel it is important for our peers to understand that the #RedForEd movement was not just about teachers wanting a pay raise; this movement was about fighting for a quality education in Arizona. Funding and quality are connected. Proper funding allows us to pay for quality certified teachers, school support staff, safe and updated school facilities, textbooks, supplies and more.

Please remember, your teachers did not walk out on you — they walked out for you!

We also want to remind everyone in our community — youth and adults — that the #RedForEd movement is not over. We still have a huge gap in the education budget that needs to be restored. It is important that we continue advocating for funding that will enable us to have a quality education and we must stand united in efforts to reform our education system in Arizona. The #RedForEd movement is only the beginning of a larger fight to take back our public education. Arizona educators took the first step and now, as a community, and especially as youth in our community, we have an opportunity to fight for our education too.

Our youth voice matters and our parents’ votes matter! We urge everyone to be informed, get engaged and become part of the solutions.

During this Teacher Appreciation Week, we encourage our fellow students to thank their teachers for being brave and standing up for themselves, their co-workers and their students. Let them know that you support them and that you will use your voice to strengthen what they have started.

Let’s commit to working together so we can see more change happen that will lead to fully restoring education funding and providing a quality education in Arizona for all students.

The Metropolitan Education Commission’s Youth Advisory Council/Tucson Teen Congress is made up of about 25 members each year. It serves as the primary information source and sounding board for the commission on youth-oriented issues.