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Chiera joins Menendez, Pascrell in Garfield for recap of CARES, ARP use in N.J. schools

AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera joined U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell and others Sept. 19 at Thomas Jefferson School No. 9 in Garfield to see how federal funds have been put to use in the district during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today is a proud moment,” said Menendez, who visited a class in session prior to delivering his remarks from another classroom. “We get to see firsthand how these federal dollars are making a real, meaningful difference in the classroom.”

He added, “These once-in-a-generation investments are happening in schools all across New Jersey. We are here in the Garfield school district to highlight what the American Rescue Plan has helped unlock for our teachers and children on the ground.”

“The CARES Act is doing the job,” noted Pascrell. “Based on what I saw in a very short period of time, these funds are going to good use. … I am very confident that this school district is going to be one of the best in the state. I’m putting money on it. … But we are not done. The best is yet to come.”

Near the end of the event, Chiera took what Pascrell said about not being done a step further, capitalizing on the stuffy conditions to make a point about much-needed infrastructure work in New Jersey schools.

“I’ve been doing some body-language watching, and everyone in this room is dying because there’s no air conditioning,” Chiera said. “But I need to remind you that there are hundreds of thousands of education staff throughout this state and throughout the country who are not only in [this type of room] for an hour press conference but are in these classrooms all day with 20 to 30 very busy students.”

She added, “The money that we received from the federal government will help. It’s a beginning to [alleviate] that type of learning obstacle. And I’m calling it a learning obstacle because we’re all having trouble paying attention ’cause we’re thinking about how hot we are. Students are no different. If the learning conditions aren’t optimal, education is not optimal.

“I am pleased not only that we received federal funding — because money does help — but if we do not spend the money we receive wisely and get it into the schools and into direct services for students, the money is not worthwhile.”

Chiera credited Garfield’s board of education and superintendent Anna Sciacca for being collaborative during the pandemic in order to make progress throughout the district.

“I know here in Garfield they recognize the professional voices of the staff,” Chiera said.