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At a time when budget cuts have wracked public education, Tucson Values Teachers is doing its part to show educators just how much they're appreciated.

On Friday, May 7, Tucson Values Teachers will hold Toast to Teachers, a block party coinciding with National Teacher Appreciation Week.

"I think it is critical that we all work to elevate the respect level and salaries of our teachers. They are vital to our future, and their many contributions need to be more widely recognized on so many levels," said Jacquelyn Jackson, executive director of Tucson Values Teachers.

The nonprofit organization started in September 2008 and partners with businesses to get discounts for K-12 teachers. One program, "$10,000 for 10,000," offers more than $10,000 worth of savings for the estimated 10,000 teachers in and around Tucson. These discounts are important, because many teachers in Arizona spend their own money to buy classroom supplies. The discounts aren't only for school supplies; they're also for teachers' everyday needs.

Tucson Values Teachers also awards one educator per month with the Teacher Excellence Award.

Patti Gloy, a teacher for the Alternative Classroom Experience program at Sahuarita Middle School, is a recipient of the Teacher Excellence Award. She teaches long-term suspension students and other students who are considered at-risk.

"It is nice to be recognized for one's hard work," she said. "Tucson Values Teachers is always trying to find ways to help those who dedicate themselves to this profession. This is especially important in this time of economic stress, because the state of Arizona doesn't seem to support or value education."

Toast to Teachers isn't just a celebration for the teachers in the area; its purpose is to join the community with the teachers who are serving it.

"(It's an) opportunity for the entire community to show up and show their respect and appreciation for our teachers," said Jackson. "I want the teachers who attend to feel deeply valued, and I want the others who attend to feel that they have an opportunity to show how much teachers mean."

Jackson's hopes for her organization and its events don't stop there. She wants Arizonans to recognize the shortcomings the state has regarding public-education funding.

On May 18, Arizonans will decide whether to agree to a temporary, one-cent-per-dollar sales-tax increase—with a large portion of that money slated to help public schools avoid further budget cuts. Jackson hopes that with the help of Tucson Values Teachers, people will realize how important it is to vote.

"We cannot lobby, but the hope is that all that we do in raising awareness will stick with people when they go to the polls to vote," Jackson said.

The block party will include displays from more than 30 companies—including free items for teachers. Vendors will offer food; there will also be cupcakes and an apple-juice toast toward the end of the evening. Attendees can enjoy performances by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the marching band from Mountain View High School, among other musicians. A Teacher Tribute Wall near Hotel Congress will allow visitors to leave messages to, or in honor of, their favorite teacher or teachers.

"The best part of Tucson Values Teachers is that it is a strong partnership among educators, business leaders and citizens," Jackson said. "We are all in this together, and there is widespread agreement about the critical role teachers play in educating our future citizens and future workforce."

The Toast to Teachers block party takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 7, on Toole Avenue, between the Cup Café and Maynards Market and Kitchen. Admission is free for everyone, and free parking passes for teachers are available online. Visit www.tucsonvaluesteachers.org for more information.

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