Utilizing funds from the NEA Western Region Long-Term Planning Grant that WEA received in 2013, three WEA Millennial members and one WEA staff member traveled to Phoenix, AZ, to observe and participate in the Arizona Education Association’s (AEA) eSWAG Educator Bazaar. eSWAG is the designation that AEA’s Millennial members have given themselves as they actively work to organize AEA’s younger members. WEA hoped to learn from Arizona’s Bazaar with the idea of hosting a future event in Wyoming, as well as to forge an ongoing relationship with AEA.
Led by WEA Central President Dirk Andrews, Natrona County EA member Leah Lange, Goshen County EA member Heather Kreiling, and WEA staff member Greg Herold spent two days in Phoenix with AEA staffer Francis Stennis and members of the eSWAG Millennial group.
The trip had two primary purposes: one was to learn how eSWAG came into existence, the other to participate in the Educational Bazaar.
Heather arrived in Phoenix first and was actively moving, sorting and arranging donated materials for the Bazaar in the triple-digit temperatures when the rest of the Wyoming group arrived. The Educational Bazaar centers around two activities. First-year teachers in the region were offered the opportunity to attend one of three professional development sessions at the AEA building in Phoenix: “Welcome to the Jungle” (setting up your classroom for success), “Student Loan Forgiveness,” and “Practical Legal Advice to Make Your First Year a Success.” Only after attending at least one of these sessions were teachers allowed to participate in the second activity: to “shop” at the Educational Bazaar, an opportunity offered only to first-year teachers.
Material for the Bazaar had come from the efforts of eSWAG, who, throughout the previous year, had contacted retired and retiring members and asked them to donate their educational materials for transfer to the first-year teachers. The amount of donated, usable items was unbelievable and dominated the large board room in the AEA office. Items were sorted, cleaned, and moved to the site of the Bazaar, where they were dispersed.
Hoping for 200 participants from the Phoenix region, eSWAG easily topped this mark. Music, food, and prize drawings were added to the day’s activities to create a festive atmosphere. While it took a huge amount of effort, participants were ecstatic to leave the Bazaar with a tremendous amount of educational materials, the value of which in some cases easily surpassed the cost of their AEA membership dues.
After the Bazaar, the WEA team was able to sit in on the eSWAG debrief session, which our team found to be of great value. To say it was an “honest” debrief would be an understatement. eSWAG members held each other and the AEA staff and elected officers to a high level of accountability and did not mince words when it came time to review. This blunt assessment is typical of the eSWAG group and has helped keep them on an active course through their activities. The discussion from this group forms the basis of the next action taken by eSWAG.
This group was likewise forthright in sharing information throughout the day as we questioned them on how their group came to be, the challenges they face, and how the group attempts to advance public education in Arizona. For example, while eSWAG members are part of the AEA, when in schools or public settings, these members refer to themselves as “eSWAG who are here representing AEA.” eSWAG has their own “branding” in that they have their own color scheme, leadership structure, tee shirts, etc., all of which serve to strengthen the collectiveness of this group. Their AEA staff liaison is outgoing and actively involved in their activities, but it is the core of active members of eSWAG that determines the direction of the group.
In all aspects, the WEA Millennial Team found this trip to be invaluable as we move towards a Millennial Organizing Cadre of our own. We came away with a variety of ideas but focused on the one point stressed to us by Sandy and Eden, the eSWAG leaders: to build the team first, discard any member who won’t remain active, and then engage in those activities of value.