Jared Catapano had a hard time explaining the prolonged government shutdown to his fourth-grade class.
“Work together” is one of his classroom’s principles — and his students could tell government leaders haven’t been doing much of that.
“We teach the kids that it’s important to work together to get something done, but with this shutdown, that’s not happening,” said Catapano, a teacher at Lafayette Elementary School in the District. “It’s really difficult to explain why there’s so much divisiveness in the government.”
The partial government shutdown, which has stretched on for a month, has fueled chatter in the classroom — and long lines in auditoriums where furloughed workers come hoping to snag a substitute-teacher position. Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia has already placed furloughed workers in the classroom as substitutes.
At H.D. Woodson High School in the District, students in Laura Fuchs’s Advanced Placement U.S. Government class are worried about the affected government workers.
“They don’t like that people are working, or out of work, and not getting paid,” Fuchs said. Some students worry about how the shutdown will affect their access to critical government-funded resources, including food stamps, welfare and public housing.
School systems in the District, Maryland and Virginia are hosting workshops and job fairs for furloughed employees, and some schools are planning more. Hundreds of federal workers in the region have attended the events with hopes of securing temporary jobs.
On Friday, crowds of furloughed federal employees poured into the auditorium at the Montgomery County Public Schools building in Rockville to attend a school system hiring event for federal workers, who can apply for positions as teachers, substitute teachers, maintenance staff, bus drivers, clerical staff and security staff.
More than 200 federal workers attended the first job fair last week. None has been hired — the school is performing background checks on applicants — but the Montgomery schools are “always looking to fill positions,” school system spokesman Derek Turner said.
Maria Herrera, a furloughed federal contractor, heard about the event from a friend. Herrera applied for positions in the school system with hopes of securing a paycheck that can pay her February bills.
“The other shutdowns I’ve experienced were so short, I didn’t expect it to last this long,” Herrera said. “But I need work. We [contractors] don’t know if we’re getting the same back pay as federal workers.”
Job fairs for furloughed employees are in demand. Fairfax County Public Schools announced a third hiring event, scheduled for Wednesday, for federal workers interested in substitute-teaching positions. About 350 furloughed employees attended the school system’s first two job fairs, according to Karen Corbett Sanders, the Fairfax County School Board chair.
“We always have a need for substitute teachers — on average, we hire 900 to 1,100 subs every day,” Sanders said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to work with applicants to expedite the hiring process and get them into the classroom as soon as possible.”
Last week, Prince George’s County Public Schools announced additional resources for students and families affected by the shutdown. The school system is expanding its 10,000 Meals Challenge fund — which covers the cost of student meals during the shutdown — to provide 20,000 meals through donations.
The school system is also hosting hiring events so furloughed employees can apply for substitute and paraprofessional positions. Nearly 100 federal workers attended the first event earlier in January, and another job fair is scheduled for Friday.
“The opportunity to attract high-level talent for these positions, feed students with hot meals and lend a helping hand is a win-win for students and the community at large,” Monica Goldson, the interim chief executive of the Prince George’s school system, said in an emailed statement.
D.C. Public Schools has not hosted a job fair, but administrators invited federal workers affected by the shutdown to apply to be substitute teachers, spokesman Shayne Wells said.
Universities are helping, too.
American University is offering a free brunch for federal workers and their families at the Airlie Center in Warrenton through Friday.
George Mason University in Fairfax is hosting free career skills workshops for affected workers on Tuesday and Jan. 31. The school also plans to offer free online courses to employees affected by the shutdown.
“Employees of both the federal government and government contractors are our neighbors and our students,” Maury Peiperl, dean of the School of Business at George Mason University, said in an emailed statement. “It’s a privilege to offer a small measure of support as they contend with the consequences of politics beyond their control.”