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Vote today for IFT heroes

Three outstanding IFT members have been selected as semifinalists for the 2016 AFT Everyday Heroes award. Cast your vote today to help propel them to victory!
AFT annually selects semifinalists in each category (Teachers, PSRPs, Higher Education, Public Employees, Healthcare, Early Childhood, and Retirees) based on how they epitomize the spirit of public service, camaraderie, and compassion, and inspire us all to reclaim the promise in our chosen fields and in our communities. (Read about previous IFT winners here.) Members from across the country vote to choose one winner in each group.

IFT semifinalists (by category) are:
Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1

Passionate. Brave. Articulate. The adjectives can pile up quickly when people bring up Erika Wozniak. But press Wozniak about her style of speaking up and out—for kids, colleagues and public schools—and the fifth-grade science teacher concocts an entirely new formula: "strategic troublemaker."

For the past 12 years, Wozniak has taught in Chicago Public Schools, finding ways to take public discussion of the urban education challenge to the granular level of the classroom. Her commentaries have been published in the Chicago Tribune. She's been in campaign ads for local candidates running on a strong school platform, and she even hosts a monthly stage show called "Girl Talk with Erika Wozniak."

Although she could probably write her own ticket on any path she chooses in life, Wozniak says there was never any doubt what that path would be: She loves helping her students discover through science the richness of inquiry, of being unafraid to try and fail, understanding there is value in that process. With science, "you have to explore and fail—and learn from that failure," explains Wozniak, a CPS mentor teacher and a member of the Educator and Licensure Board for the state Board of Education.

She also spearheaded a successful campaign to stop taxpayer money needed for public schools from bankrolling a new basketball arena for DePaul University, her alma mater. She's worked as a local union representative for most of her career, serving so aggressively in one building that it cost her a chance to return for the next year. But that aggressive union stand also has its rewards—it's why her school is moving to honor the contract's class-size limits. When she walked in a classroom and saw only 26 kids, rather than the 36 she had worked with in prior years, the sight was so overwhelming, she had to sneak into the restroom to wipe away a few tears.

"She is absolutely unafraid to stand up for the rights of her students and for the future of public education," one colleague says.
Sign language interpreter/aide
Peoria Federation of Support Staff, Local 6099

Tammy Arvin is assigned to a fifth-grader born nearly deaf. Cochlear implants help the child hear, but he relies a lot on Arvin, his sign language interpreter. She felt bad for her student, Rhemy Elsey, as she would for any kid who has to be trailed by an adult all day, so Arvin was glad last fall when Rhemy's classmates agreed to learn sign language through a club that meets during recess and after school. The kids just wanted to talk with their friend.

Now their class starts every day by signing the Pledge of Allegiance. And they chat in American Sign Language."It's like … it's like they want to be like me," Rhemy told local media. The children have made great strides in understanding the language, and their friend is helping them learn it. He's made a unique sign for each of their names.

Arvin also takes time to contribute to her union, the Peoria Federation of Support Staff, by volunteering as a work-site leader at her school and making sure members' voices are heard."

She is an amazing interpreter and so dedicated to her profession," her nominator says. "We are all extremely proud of her. We believe she is the person who should win this award."
AFT Local 604 (Crest Hill)

Galloway Elementary School's morning custodian, James Mucci, can rightly be called unique. Yes, he has a normal job in the Channahon School District, taking care of his school building, making sure it's clean and that everything works. He swabs floors, scrapes up gum, replaces lights and even paints the walls every now and then.

Mucci hovers over preschoolers to second-graders like a dad in the halls and lunchroom, dispensing fatherly advice as he works. He hovers over them saying "hi" as they arrive in the morning and "bye" as they leave in the afternoon. But Mucci is not like a helicopter parent. He's more like a butterfly. That's because his passion is butterflies.

He loves them so much, and loves his job so much, that he shared his family hobby of raising monarch butterflies with all the students by bringing in butterflies, caterpillars and eggs so the kids could learn about the creatures' life cycles. The children gave him a book of thank-you notes in return.

Not only does Mucci work well with students, his nominator says, but he constantly helps teachers by tying shoes, zipping zippers and getting the children ready to meet life. His students, the school staff and his union, AFT Local 604, are lucky to have him.
Learn about all the nominees here, then vote for our IFT heroes by May 29th!

Winners will be recognized at the AFT Convention in Minneapolis in July.



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