Two of AFT's 2011 Everyday Heroes—teacher Karen King and retiree Christina Sharp—were honored at TEACH on July 12.
Bill Press, a liberal political commentator, radio talk show host and lifelong union member, presented the awards. Along with expressing his support for the work of educators, Press commented on the current political climate. "If you want to build a better state," he said, pointing to governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio and Chris Christie in New Jersey, "you should look for ways to help teachers, not punish them. … Instead of beating up on teachers, they ought to be here honoring them."
King, a fifth-grade teacher at Reed Intermediate School and member of the Newtown Federation of Teachers, was honored for her work to improve the lives of students at home and abroad. "I want my students to get a great education, and part of that involves instilling in them a sense that they are part of a larger, global community," she said.
King's philanthropic efforts began when she and her students started a school supply drive called "Pencils for Peace" for a school that had been destroyed in the conflict in Kosovo. Her students wrote letters to businesses to collect pencils for the Kosovar students. This effort then evolved into a communitywide fundraiser that raised more than $12,000 to help rebuild the devastated school's library.
AFT Everyday Hero finalists Christina Sharp, left, and Karen King.
Closer to home, King engages her students and colleagues in her many volunteer efforts, including making sandwiches for a local homeless shelter in Danbury, Conn. She has involved all of Reed Intermediate in an even more ambitious effort—she helped organize a photography project called "Eye to Eye" with her students, who spent a year sharing letters, poems, songs and photographs about their everyday lives, with Liberian refugee students who attend a free school in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana, West Africa. The project blossomed into a schoolwide fundraising effort to provide them with supplies, and even to move the school back to their homeland when they were able to return to Liberia.
King also works with Rotary clubs throughout Connecticut to raise funds needed to start an eye clinic in Liberia. For this project, she works with Unite for Sight, an organization she became involved with while doing teacher trainings in Haiti. To date, she has raised $50,000.
Retiree honoree Sharp retired from teaching in 1983, but her energy and "can-do" spirit wouldn't let her rest. She served for nearly 10 years as president of NYSUT Retiree Council 43, where she took the lead in planning and organizing union activities for her fellow retirees in the state of Florida. As the leader of the council, she set up meetings with legislators to ensure retirement security for current and future retirees. She also coordinated visits from union officials, and produced conferences and workshops.
"There is so much we can do for students and teachers even after we retire from the classroom," said Sharp. "I'm happy to have been able to help my fellow retirees realize their full potential."
Though no longer president, Sharp is still a council delegate, actively participating in union events and meetings.
This is the second year of the AFT Everyday Hero awards, which are given to AFT members who go above and beyond the call of duty and make a difference every day in their workplaces or communities. This year, more than 350 members were nominated, and five semifinalists were selected for each AFT division (Teachers, Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel, Public Employees, Higher Education, Healthcare and Retirees). More than 5,000 people voted online to choose each division's winner.
More information, including a nomination form for the 2012 Everyday Heroes, is available online. [AFT press release/video by Matthew Jones and Brett Sherman/photo by Michael Campbell]
July 13, 2011