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What Sequestration Means for My School

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My school is a rock in my neighborhood and provides a safe haven for the children we teach and nurture.

I teach third grade at Julia de Burgos Elementary School in Philadelphia. I've been teaching here for nine years. I love my job and I love my students.

Julia de Burgos is a Title I school where nearly 100 percent of the 600 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. At my school, like so many schools across the country, we continue to face cut after cut. Every day we try to do what we can with the precious few resources we have -- stretching ourselves, digging into our own pockets and sharing materials and supplies just to make it work.

But we shouldn't have to make it work. We shouldn't be putting up more roadblocks to success and we shouldn't be putting more hurdles in front of kids. Our students come to school wanting to learn and to dream, and we owe it to them to invest in their futures.

In the past year alone, my class has increased by eight students. That's 27 eight-year-olds in one crowded classroom, all of whom deserve more time than I am able to provide. I can only spread myself so thin. Many of my students are high-risk and need the extra support and one-on-one attention to thrive. We need small classes to give them the help they need to really learn and grow.

About $700,000 of my school's budget is funded under Title I. The term "Title I" sounds so abstract, but these funds are at the heart of everything we do at Julia de Burgos. We use the funds to pay for three teachers and teachers' aides as well as for the intervention and enrichment programs our students depend on. All are at risk of being cut by this made-up congressional sequester that's now become a crisis.

Every morning, students at Julia de Burgos participate in a reading intervention program. There are several programs available for students -- from special assistance for a third-grader reading at kindergarten level to programs in the school's computer lab, to the program I oversee, which allows students to have in-depth discussions on literature and write poetry. All of the materials for these interventions are paid for through Title I funding. We know that reading and literacy skills are essential to a child's future. Why would some in Congress want to deny my students the ability to become skilled readers and thinkers?

But the cuts wouldn't stop there. Julia de Burgos has a high number of special education students -- about 16 percent of the total student population. Sequestration cuts threaten special education teachers and classroom assistants and the crucial services they provide these children. Several of our students are medically fragile and require constant one-on-one support and assistance from an aide.

In my class alone, I have several students who receive extra support every morning and afternoon. This extra support is the difference between a child succeeding and falling further and further behind. I recently had a child who I knew was struggling and just wasn't getting it. With 27 students, I knew I could not provide the one-on-one intensive support the child needed. I reached out to my special education colleagues, and the student was identified as having a learning disability. Within a week of extra support from a special education teacher, this student was transformed. The child now is an eager student -- raising his hand, participating in class and really thriving. This transformation would not have happened without the extra assistance from special education teachers and aides.

The bottom line: We cannot continue to use our students as pawns in a political game. Every day, my students deserve more than what is given to them. It's unconscionable that some members of Congress want to give them even less.