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CPS Retiree Gets Strike Déjà Vu

Maria Vargas walks the picket line Monday, 25 years after her last Chicago teachers strike

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Maria Vargas walked the picket line Monday, 25 years after her last Chicago teachers strike. Michelle Relerford reports. (Published Monday, Sep 10, 2012)

    As teachers at Haugan Elementary School drum up support Monday for their contract fight, Maria Vargas plans to be with them every step of the way.

    It's a path she walked before, 25 years ago in 1987, the last time teachers in Chicago called a strike.

    "I picketed in the winter when it was 10-below zero," Vargas recalled. "When I came here, I was 22 years old. Now I'm 63, and I came here today to tell Rahm to make this a better school."

    Vargas said she thinks the education system has gotten worse in Chicago since the previous strike.

    "Things have gotten so bad in the past 25 years," she said. "That's why we got a 90 percent vote to go on strike."

    Today Vargas is a retired teacher, but her years of work stands smiling on the picket line in the form of a former student.

    Joey Orr embraced Vargas and thanked her for her years of dedication.

    "How hard we worked with you guys," Vargas remembered.

    "And what excellent teachers you were," Orr said. "It's because of you where I am, it's because of the teachers."

    And without teachers inside, the school is a much different place. As teachers protested, parents brought their children to Haugan, one of the 144 Children First sites open for four hours a day during the strike.

    Parents arrived not sure what to expect.

    "You know what I've been telling the parents today?" Vargas said. "'If everything looks good, then you can leave them. Don't traumatize the child. Some of these little kids were showing up with watery eyes already."

    It's an emotional day on many levels, but Vargas said she's prepared to stay the course once again.

    "At the end of the day, I will be able to sleep better because I know that children are getting all their services."

    NBC Chicago has an array of reporters and producers covering the Chicago teacher strike. Check our live blog for continuous coverage and updates throughout the strike.