Last Tuesday I attended the 25th anniversary of New York City Outward Bound Schools, an organization that I worked for as a founding teacher in the late eighties. When NYC Outward Bound was established in 1987 it was the first independent urban Outward Bound Center in the U.S. Its motto stood for everything I wanted to do back then, and twenty five years later it still resonates —Transforming Schools, Changing Lives.
There is a lot going on in Delaware’s schools and the recent promising state test scores suggest that the hard work is paying off. Many of us in the education community work toward this shared goal, but often times the people making the most impact get the least attention. As our state legislature winds down and our presidential race heats up, the political rhetoric often distracts us from the power of the day-to-day work. Since the state won the first Race to the Top competition back in April of 2010, we’ve seen many people roll their sleeves up and do what it takes to make a real impact in our schools. We consider these individuals the unsung heroes of public education.
Lately it occurred to us that for all of the people that we do know, there are countless others, working quietly day in and day out, who we don’t. So, earlier this month we launched the iEducate Delaware™ program to find and honor these individuals. Nominees can be a teacher, principal, student, support staff member, legislator, school board member, an administrator, a parent, or community leader —anyone who is a champion of education. I encourage you to visit www.iEducateDelaware.org to nominate someone you know who is making a difference. We ask that you submit your brief stories by June 30. Winners will be able to dedicate $2,000 towards the educational program of their choice. Our hope is that over time, by bringing attention to this work, this circle will continue to expand.
When I think about what it means to be a champion of education, I think about the special education teacher who consistently goes the extra mile to help his students exceed their own expectations year after year, the school board member who keeps a relentless focus on students to make the tough calls in her district, and the parent who demonstrates leadership by not only supporting her school but by raising her voice when she believes the school is going off track.
I also think about my former students, and whether or not I was champion enough for them.
On my office windowsill sit two framed pictures of some of these students from Outward Bound. The pictures are over 20 years old. I have more recent shots of course, including a few from last Tuesday. But I choose to keep the old pictures in the frames instead, as a reminder of the responsibility I had to those children then, and of the responsibility we all have to Delaware’s children now.
Paul Herdman is President and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware