For those who haven’t taught, the unique challenges and rewards that teachers experience in the classroom can be hazy at best. That’s why teachers, natural problem solvers who make a difference in the lives of young people every day, are an essential voice in any effort to support and innovate education.
This belief fueled a new initiative that the Education Foundation of Sarasota County launched in August as the new school year began: the Teacher Ambassador Program. We wanted to reach more teachers and engage with them directly. We wanted to hear about their challenges and concerns and learn how we can best support them. And we wanted to share what we were doing so they could inform their colleagues and their students.
To do this, we invited teachers from across the county to join with the longer-term goal of having all 55 schools in the county represented. This year, teachers from 12 schools signed on to become ambassadors. While the first meeting was scheduled for late September, Hurricanes Ian and then Nicole postponed it until December 8, when the first cohort of ambassadors met at LaunchPad4U, our community resource center and learning lab in the Rosemary District near downtown Sarasota.
Teachers of all grade levels and subject areas met one another and discussed ways to celebrate teacher appreciation and help ensure schools with more limited resources get the benefits other schools can take for granted. They filled easel pads with ideas that are now helping guide the Education Foundation.
Frank Ourednik, a history teacher at Riverview High School, was one of these teachers. After over two years teaching under the cloud of the pandemic, Ourednik was excited to reengage with the larger community of educators. And the first meeting was, as Ourednik said, “One of the most uplifting moments of the year.”
For ease and accessibility, monthly meetings since the kick-off have been held virtually. During these meetings, the Education Foundation shares updates with teachers who disseminate news and opportunities to their colleagues and to students. Teachers discuss issues they’re encountering and provide feedback on our work.
Dr. Bianca Harris, who leads this program, finds the communication inspiring and vital to our work. As Dr. Harris said, “Ambassadors have shared insights into our classroom grants program through DonorsChoose, helping make the process easier and more impactful for teachers. They provided feedback on Hurricane Ian relief grants.”
At the kick-off meeting, teachers found a bag of gifts including a tee shirt, travel mug, and more. Those who engage with the program all year will receive a $500 stipend. Teachers have also learned of opportunities through the Teacher Ambassador Program sponsors Grand Canyon University and Equitable. Both sponsors have shared information about master’s programs, scholarships, and financial literacy tools. Beyond any of these perks, teachers have a unique opportunity to engage with one another outside of school, networking and feeling part of a larger community. They get to share their ideas and experiences and help guide our efforts to support teachers and students.
As Ourednik said, “I feel that my voice is valued.”
Interested in being a Teacher Ambassador for the 2023 – 2024 school year? Contact Dr. Bianca Harris.