Coalition develops a plan to support the needs of local students during the teacher walkout set to begin April 2.

MIAMI – With the fast approach of the April 2 deadline for a state-wide teacher walkout, a community coalition has formed in Miami in support of educators and to put a plan in place for locals kids if schools shut down.

Jordan Barlow, President of Partners for Ottawa County, Inc. and Population Health Coordinator for Integris Miami Hospital and Steve Gilbert, President and CEO of the Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce, brought together several representatives from local organizations Tuesday to flesh out a formalized plan.

“It’s no secret that the stress imposed by the walkout impacts the mental health of the teachers, students, and parents involved. But most people don’t consider the cascading economic impact this will have on our community, " said Barlow. "Parents who can’t afford childcare may have to take off work, which not only results in a loss of productivity for employers but also could mean smaller paychecks for families, making them less able to contribute back to local businesses. When you consider how many families can’t afford to take off work, or don’t have close relatives to help with childcare, it will likely result in kids being left at home alone. I’m proud to have helped coordinate this coalition that has engaged in a decision-making process and organized a plan. While teachers advocate for our kids’ education at the Capitol, our community will be responsible for holding down the fort, as they say. So now we’re looking to rally the troops, pray for the best, and prepare for the worst.”

Working within the coalition with Barlow and Gilbert are Jeremy Hogan, Miami Public Schools Superintendent; Mackenzie Garst, Executive Director Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa County; Donni Long, Director Wesley Student Center at NEO A&M College and Gina Womack, Director Ottawa County United Way in conjunction with community members and churches.

Hogan and Barlow have confirmed a plan to provide two meals, transportation, and three locations for Miami students during school closures.

"Once again the community is stepping up to support our kids and teachers," said Hogan. "Everyone has come together, the Boys and Girls Club, our churches, United Way, the Chamber, to help with what we need. Our district has a lot of students who depend on school meals and we have parents that have to work during those hours. So we're asking for those who have the resources to donate and volunteer."

School buses will provide transportation to one of three locations during the walkout which will be open to students from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays – Washington Elementary (NE Miami), Nichols Elementary (West/Central Miami) and the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa County (South Miami – Riverview Park).

"The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa County is prepared to serve the needs of our children during a teacher walkout," said Garst. "As a youth development organization, we believe strongly in supporting our school district and its teachers. We encourage community members to volunteer at one of the sites opening to students during this time."

A minimum of 25-30 volunteers will be needed daily at each location site. The coalition has created a website where community members can sign up to help for however many days or hours they can commit to.

All volunteers are required to pass a background check which takes only minutes with the submission of some basic information.

For those unable to volunteer, the coalition is asking for financial support through donations to the “Community 4 Kids” fund established at Miami Public Schools.

Hogan said bus routes are still being finalized but additional information will be pushed out to parents Monday and transportation routes set by next Wednesday, March 28 when he also expects a confirmation on if the walkout will move forward.

Breakfast and lunch will be served at all three locations, primarily funded through State Department grants usually designated for summer programs along with community donations and church food programs. While the grant funding will not be officially confirmed until right after the April 2 walkout date, Hogan said MPS is moving ahead with the expectation of that support being in place.

While the day program is mainly aimed at providing safe, supervised locations for students in the pre-k through 5th-grade range, Hogan stressed meals are for students of all ages and said there might also be an opportunity for older students to help with younger ones.

"It is unfortunate that our State’s elected officials are not able to fund education adequately. It should never have come to this crisis situation. We take care of what is important. It is shocking that children are not the most important priority to our state legislature," said Gilbert. "Schools should be focused on educating and preparing students for success in life and for good jobs and careers. This walkout exposes the fact that our schools provide a major social service safety net for children by providing a safe place and food to eat. Our dysfunctional state legislature is creating a harmful situation for our children. Our children deserve better.

"The non-profits and church people who are stepping up are to be commended, and we will always support what is the right thing to do for children and our community. Bottom line is this crisis throws a big wrench in our efforts to bring new jobs to Miami and we need to hold our State elected officials accountable."

How to help

To sign up to volunteer, click here to visit the Support Volunteers website and select your available hours.

Financial donations to "Community 4 Kids" can be made at the MPS Administration Office, 26 N Main in Miami. When school resumes after the spring break, a link will be provided to make donations online. Those with questions can call the central office at 918-542-8455.

For more information on the walkout, visit the Work Stoppage information page provided through MPS.

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. Email her at dballard@miaminewsrecord.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.