STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Students in Los Angeles have a new routine. When they arrive at schools in the morning, they are greeted by their teachers picketing outside.
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UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: What do we want?
UNIDENTIFIED TEACHERS: Smaller classes.
UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: When do we want it?
UNIDENTIFIED TEACHERS: Now.
INSKEEP: They're striking because the teachers union and the district failed to negotiate a new contract. So what is happening inside the schools? NPR's Elissa Nadworny is in LA with the story.
ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: At Vista Middle School, students aren't in the classrooms. They're grouped by grade in the gym and in the auditorium.
SHARLENE MARTINEZ: I need all eyes up here, mouths closed.
NADWORNY: Sharlene Martinez, a vice principal, is teaching close to 150 seventh-graders.
MARTINEZ: OK. We're all transitioning to math.
NADWORNY: She passes out a worksheet. It's about shapes and spatial awareness.
MARTINEZ: My credential's in English. But covering the math? My gosh - very challenging.
NADWORNY: She's eager to have this teachers strike over.
MARTINEZ: I mean, I'm hardly getting any time to sit, eat, breathe, go to the bathroom, so yeah. But it's been very smooth.
NADWORNY: Only about a half of the student body came to school on Tuesday. Principal Joe Nardulli leads us down what's usually the eighth-grade corridor. Today classrooms are empty, hallways quiet.
If there wasn't a strike right now, what would this hallway look like?
JOE NARDULLI: Oh, this would be a full place - you know, about 410 students roaming the hallways, passing. And this is the location that students would have instruction.
NADWORNY: On the first two days of the strike, about a third of the district's students showed up. And that's a problem because funding from the state is linked to attendance. With those numbers, each day of the strike means an estimated net loss of about $15 million according to district leaders. Across town at Kingsley Elementary, about half the school was absent.
KENYA TOMAS: A lot of parents are holding their kids back. That's their way of joining in the strike.
NADWORNY: That's Kenya Tomas (ph). She's a teacher's assistant at Kingsley. Many TAs, including Kenya, are in schools during the strike. She supports the teachers but isn't in their union, and she was told she could lose her job if she didn't come to work. In schools this week, she says students are doing lots of busy work.
TOMAS: We have them doing just worksheets and movies. That's literally it.
NADWORNY: They've watched "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" and "Boss Baby."
KIMBERLY ESCOBAR: We didn't really learn much.
NADWORNY: Kimberly Escobar is a fifth-grader at Alta Loma Elementary School. We've been checking in with her and her mom, Rosa, this week.
ROSA ESCOBAR: She's, like, bored. She was expecting something else.
NADWORNY: At school this week, she's learned about nouns on a school iPad and watched a bunch of videos, including one about oceans. She wants to stay home tomorrow. Mom has other plans.
ROSA: She has to go to school.
KIMBERLY: I don't learn anything.
KIMBERLY: But there's nothing to learn. We already know about the ocean. It's like we're doing this for no reason.
NADWORNY: Few kids were in school on Tuesday. And when Kimberly came home, she was feeling really lonely.
ROSA: No friends, no teachers - I know. It's kind of sad.
NADWORNY: Kimberly buries her face in her mom's arms.
KIMBERLY: I miss my friends.
ROSA: It's OK. Chica, it's OK. Hopefully, it ends up soon. It's all right.
NADWORNY: By the end of our visit, Kimberly's decided, OK. She'll go to school.
KIMBERLY: Maybe one day we'll finally tell you everything's back to normal.
NADWORNY: With negotiations at an impasse, it's unclear when that will be.
Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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