To celebrate the teachers who change the course of our lives, the 2022 Dewey Awards invited stories of teachers as change-makers. You all submitted amazing stories of teachers who taught you to think outside the box, teachers who helped you overcome learning and personal challenges, and teachers who helped you perceive yourselves in a new light.
The review board was truly moved by all of your submissions, so choosing the winners was no easy task. Among nearly 200 submissions, here are the three winners of the 2022 award. Congratulations to the winners, who will all receive a $1,000 grant to their charter school of choice!
Author: Darian Jones
Nominated: Mrs. Esquirido Braddy, Retired
School of Choice: Sankore Prep Charter School
Author: Chris Vanderhorst
Nominated: Mr. Dmitry Kogan
School of Choice: Ivy Academia Charter School
Author: Lisa Griffin
Nominated: Mrs. Dana O’Neill
School of Choice: Stargate Charter School
“Growing up, I never really respected my school’s PE teachers and coaches. I thought they represented toxic masculinity and a system that prioritized sports over academics, the strong over the weak and bullying over empathy or inclusivity.
And then something happened. My 6th grade son came home from school one day and told me he had been one of the last three kids to finish his PE class’ required mile run. He said he was puffing for air, trying to decide whether he was more likely to die of a heart attack or humiliation when he heard the cheers. His PE teacher, Ms. Dana O’Neill had lined up every student in class and asked them to celebrate the slower runners, to think about how they would feel if they had finished last. Instead of feeling shame for his failure, my son felt pride in his accomplishment, all because a remarkable teacher asked a bunch of middle schoolers to choose kindness.
That day marked a turning point for my son. It was the beginning of a realization that he didn’t have to be limited by the physical challenges that had kept him in physical therapy for most of his life and made him a case study for Children’s Hospital Colorado. In Ms. O’Neill’s class it did not matter that he’d had both legs in casts 3 times or that he slept in heavy night splints to stretch super-short Achilles tendons. It didn’t matter that he struggled with gait issues or that there had been times when he could not hop more than 3-4 inches off the ground or stand on one leg. What mattered was that he tried.
Ms. O’Neill kept encouraging him toward physical fitness through 6th, 7th and 8th grades. She convinced him to participate in a “Burpee Mile” event on Thanksgiving. She celebrated with him as he made incremental gains in strength, speed and mobility. When Covid forced the school to pivot to online classes, she worked tirelessly to keep all her PE students – my son included – physically and mentally engaged. She created games, asked them to go for walks in the fresh air, sent them healthy snack recipes and came up with innovative ways to deliver PE remotely. At the end of 8th grade, she awarded my son her “PE Student of the Year” award. It was an incredible moment for a kid who had once believed that physical fitness, sports and an active, healthy lifestyle were off limits to him.
“Griffin has been absolutely outstanding his past three years of taking PE. He has shown so much growth, dedication and hard work. He is motivated and hardworking in all the activities and assignments given to him.”
Because of Ms. O’Neill’s encouragement, my son went out his freshman year for HS cross-country and track. He continues to train in HS PE class and is now an incredibly fit sophomore, who ran a 5K in 20:13 at regionals last week and finished 6th on his varsity team. But, more remarkable than that, the doctors who in Middle School told us that my son would need surgery in high school on both legs and should plan to spend a full year in casts, told us recently that they no longer think surgery will be necessary. They said that all the physical activity, especially the running, was working to build muscle and stretch my son’s tendons naturally.
I’m so grateful that Ms. O’Neill saw my son as more than the kid who finished last in the mile run. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if she had not looked beyond my son’s limitations and encouraged him over the course of three years he wouldn’t be running today. He wouldn’t have gained a new set of friends and teammates. Instead, he’d be facing a year of casts and operations and isolation. So, I’m nominating Ms. Dana O’Neill of Stargate Charter School in Thornton Colorado because she changed the trajectory of my son’s life both physically and mentally. Because of her, I’ll never think of PE teachers in quite the same way again.”
Thank you for sharing your stories with us! All three winners will receive a $1,000 grant to be given to a charter school of choice. We honor the teachers who share the mission of providing a nourishing environment for students—you are the heart of that effort! Congratulations!
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