A Special Thank-You to my Teachers

In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, I want to take a serious moment and publicly recognize some important people in my life:

My teachers.

I can’t bear to talk about the sweet innocent lives lost—the babies, and their protectors who died trying to save them.

TeacherSo I want to focus on something positive. As the daughter of two teachers, and future daughter-in-law of another teacher, I’ve always had the greatest respect and admiration for our nation’s educators.

And over the past week, I’ve watched public opinion of teachers change drastically, to finally match mine. Throughout my life, four of my teachers really stood out, and I want the world to know who they are:

1) Mr. Ely

4th Grade, Desert Springs Elementary School, Phoenix, Ariz.

I still remember Mr. Ely’s yearly Thanksgiving Feast, where our class made everything from scratch—even the butter. I remember being fascinated by our lessons on the Emperor Penguins, as well as the cow’s eye I couldn’t wait to dissect, before I got sick. With Mr. Ely, going to school wasn’t boring; it was recess! Every day was a new adventure, and that’s something, coming from an ADHD child.

2) Mrs. Kroeppler (now Mrs. Prince)

High School English, Horizon High School, Phoenix, Ariz.

I had Mrs. Prince for three years: as a sophomore, junior and senior. I had some wonderful writing and journalism professors during college, but none matched Mrs. Prince. She taught me about poetry, inspired my writing and creativity beyond what I believed I could do. I became a professional writer partly due to Mrs. Prince’s influence. Above all, I’ll never forget her words to me, senior year of high school: “You’re a leader. You just don’t know it yet.”

3) Mr. Leonard

High School Social Studies/History, Horizon High School, Phoenix, Ariz.

My world opened when I first took Mr. Leonard’s World History class as a high school sophomore. The Middle Ages suddenly weren’t about dates and names, but about stories and lost love. The Black Plague. Marie Antoinette. The French Revolution. Mr. Leonard not only sparked my first curiosity in traveling to Europe, but he TOOK me there as part of a three-week school trip after I graduated! That was my first experience leaving the country.

4) Brian Friedman

Dance, The Dance Studio, Scottsdale, Ariz.

I started dancing at age 3, so this list would never be complete without a dance teacher. I didn’t enter Brian’s world until I turned 16, but in the few years I trained under him, I became a force to reckon with. Brian pushed harder than any other dance teacher, but he also cared about me—as a teenager—more than the others, too. I’ll never forget performing my first solo in the high school talent show, and Brian showing up to watch and support me. Today, Brian is a dance hot-shot, choreographing for Britney Spears and producing X-Factor shows. Go Brian!

WHICH TEACHERS AFFECTED YOUR LIFE? Give them the shout-out they deserve right here. Let’s recognize and honor our nation’s incredible teachers!

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RIP dear, sweet Sandy Hook babies and teachers …

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What Happened to the Need for Volunteers?

I’m a 29-year-old professional woman, college-educated, and I’m dying to volunteer for my neighborhood’s at-risk kids.  

There’s just one problem: no one wants my help.

Today is one of those days I’m veering off-topic. And yes, perhaps this is a bit of a rant. But I see something wrong–very wrong–with my recent discovery. And I cannot remain silent.

What I want(ed) to do 

I grew up in the vibrant dance culture of Phoenix, Ariz. (yes, we do have one, believe-it-or-not). I danced ballet, jazz, lyrical … 15 hours a week. I helped put myself through college by teaching dance.

And now that I work a professional 9-5, I want to teach it again. Except this time, I don’t want to be paid. I want to volunteer as a dance teacher and mentor for teenage girls in my neighborhood’s high school dance program.

It’s a Title 1 school. That means it receives federal funds because many of its students are at-risk, from low-income households.

Since this summer, I’ve been trying to call the school. I’ve left messages with the principal, the office staff, and even the staff dance teacher. I went so far as to call the SCHOOL DISTRICT and leave a message for their volunteer coordinator.

Not a single call back.

I guess our local school districts, which are scrounging for money, don’t need free help from its community’s professionals, who by the way, pay property taxes to support education.

Walter Cronkite had a volunteer high-school mentor.

Did you know that? I’m currently reading his autobiography. The man was a professional journalist in Walter’s community. He volunteered to teach and mentor the neighborhood high school kids once or twice a week.

Walter Cronkite, as we know him, would probably never have existed without this great volunteer.

Have you ever seen the movie, “Stand and Deliver?” It’s about the infamous math teacher, Jaime Escalante, who taught at-risk high school students calculus. Jaime, a Bolivian educator, came to Garfield High School from a computer factory, where he served as a star technician.

In today’s world of public education, neither Jaime nor Walter’s mentor would have made it to the classroom. No one would have bothered to call them back.

Yes, I’m angry! And you should be, too.

What happened to this country’s appreciation for volunteers? When did it become so HARD to help, for free, in your community? When did we become so selfish, that we think only to use our communties as resources–to better ourselves?

I come from a family of teachers. My mother was a teacher, my father was a teacher. My boyfriend’s mother is a teacher. I have cousins who are teachers. It runs in my blood. And yet, I cannot get involved.

Is anyone else seeing what’s happening here?

Yes, perhaps there are many reasons why I haven’t gotten a call back. But after leaving multiple messages for multiple people, I think the message is clear. They don’t want my help. Because to them, it’s not about the kids.

This makes me wonder, what other opportunities are being denied to our youth in the public school system? Who else have they not called back?

I’m not a parent. So I urge every parent out there to find out. Ask questions. Because apparently, it’s no longer the American way to step up and volunteer for your community’s youth.

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