Nation's Public Schools Celebrate American Education Week

By Celeste Busser

Starting today, the National Education Association joins the nation in celebrating American Education Week, which will be held November 14-20. The annual commemoration, now in its 89th year, shines a spotlight on the important work of creating great public schools for all of our students.

The week’s theme, Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility, is a reminder that educators, parents, community members, business leaders, elected officials, and students all have a part to play in supporting great schools. NEA believes that all students deserve an education that will allow them to achieve and succeed in the 21st century.

“American Education Week reminds us that our public schools are a shared responsibility,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Each of us must do our part to support student growth and achievement. All of us—educators, students, parents and communities—must work together to transform our schools so that every student has access to a great public school.”

During American Education Week, NEA Executive Committee members will visit low-performing schools that are part of NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign. In this campaign, NEA and its members are working to improve student achievement through a collaborative transformation model.

Events get under way today with celebrants across the nation sponsoring special events in their towns and cities to thank educators and celebrate public education.

Tom Whisinnand, a member of the Millard Education Association in Nebraska, and Lorraine Wilson, a National Education Association staff member, participate in a wreath laying event at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC on November 15, 2010. (Photo: Benjamin Myers)

NEA members who are also military veterans will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, to honor fallen educators who have served in our country’s armed forces. It was the idea of Tom Whisinnand, a teacher in Omaha, Neb., who believes every student in America is offered the chance at a better life thanks to the availability of free public education.

That “incredible gift is in part due to honorable service personnel who have fought and died to protect our right to a free public education,” he said. “Some people may not agree with current military practices or policy, but the reality is that we have the freedoms and rights today because of those military men and women who came before us.?? This wreath laying ceremony is meant to honor those servicemen and women who have served their country so that we, as educators, can continue to offer the truly life changing gift of public education.??”

Each day during AEW will spotlight a different aspect of school life:

Tuesday: Parents’ Day
Schools are inviting parents into classrooms to experience a day in the life of students. NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen talks about the critical role parents play in students’ success.

Wednesday: Education Support Professionals (ESP) Day
Schools and communities are honoring Education Support Professionals for their commitment to students. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, ESP of the Year Helen Cottongim, and NEA ESP Chair Laura Montgomery will visit John Adams Elementary School and Mt. Vernon Community School in Alexandria, Va., to recognize the dedication and hard work of the school’s ESPs. On NEA’s website, NEA Secretary Treasurer Becky Pringle talks about how ESPs round out the total team of educators in a school.

Thursday: Educator for a Day
Community leaders are being invited to teach a lesson or visit a class and connect with public school students and teachers. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will visit Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md.

Friday: Substitute Educators Day
This day honors the educators who are called upon to replace regularly employed teachers. Vote for your favorite celebrity substitute educator at

“American Education Week serves as a tribute to the team of people who work with our students, everyone from the classroom teacher and the bus driver to the cafeteria worker and the administrative staff—plus countless others,” said Van Roekel. “We honor and thank them for the work they do every day to make sure that our students are safe and ready and able to learn.”

Celebrated the week prior to Thanksgiving, American Education Week began in 1921 with the NEA and the American Legion as cosponsors. The goal was to generate public awareness and support for education because of concerns over illiteracy. A year later, the U.S. Office of Education signed on, and the PTA followed in 1938.

Co-sponsors now include the U.S. Department of Education, National PTA, the American Legion, the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Counselor Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National School Public Relations Association, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Photo: Benjamin J. Myers/NEA