TERRE HAUTE —
Song, dance, special guests and words of inspiration filled the Terre Haute North Vigo High School gym Friday during the Vigo County School Corp. annual Back-to-School Appreciation Rally.
To open the event, cafeteria workers danced to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock,” with music provided by the Lemon Brothers.
Later, former Indiana University football star Anthony Thompson — describing an educational aide who helped change his life — urged teachers to “inspire your kids to do great things.”
And special guest Glenda Ritz — state superintendent of public instruction — received a standing ovation and responded with a curtsey to her admiring audience.
School Board president Paul Lockhart assured Ritz the board here “will never snub you. … You are certainly welcome here anytime.”
Lockhart was referring to a recent headline indicating the state Board of Education — appointed by a Republican governor — had snubbed the new, Democratic state superintendent.
Lockhart told Ritz, “We know you have great integrity and you will always be honest and fair. Thank you for being a great advocate for public education.”
Ritz told the crowd, “I’m excited to be in Vigo County.”
Ritz updated teachers on some of her goals and priorities for the upcoming year. One goal is to do away with what she describes as the A-to-F “labeling” system.
“When you label a school … you are labeling every student that goes out of our schools,” she said.
She talked about a student who approached her at Wabash College and asked her to end the practice of grading schools using an A-to-F system. The student had received a 3.7 GPA, but he went to a school that received an F.
The student told her that when he applied to colleges, “They don’t look at a 3.7 from an F school the same way they look at 3.7 from an A school,” Ritz said. “We are denying these students equal opportunity when they leave our schools.”
That change will require legislative action, she said.
Throughout the program, several speakers, including Mayor Duke Bennett and County Commissioner Judy Anderson, emphasized to teachers what a powerful impact and positive influence they can have on a student’s life.
“Your face may be the first happy face that child sees” each day, Anderson said.
Thompson, a North Vigo graduate, former NFL running back and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy while at Indiana University, started his talk by reading a quote from newscaster Dan Rather: “The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you.”
He talked about his experience as a low-income student attending Franklin school and the positive influence of educator Judy Hadley.
He had a disability and struggled in school, but she would take him out into the hall and study with him. She praised and encouraged him. She told him, “Anthony, you’re going to be something someday.”
According to Thompson, “She saw something in me I didn’t see in myself” and helped give him a vision for his life.
Without that encouragement, “I would not be standing before you today.”
The former IU football star was a two-time Big Ten Most Valuable Player and two-time first-team All-American. In 2007, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and more recently, he was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. He is the only IU athlete to ever have his jersey retired.
Thompson said that a seed planted while he was in elementary school helped him persevere through his personal challenges, become a successful football player and earn a degree from IU.
“You can make the difference,” he told VCSC teachers, reminding them that they might be teaching a future mayor of Terre Haute, superintendent of Vigo County schools or even a future U.S. president.
“You have the opportunity to give young people hope,” Thompson said.
Teacher of the year Jodi Southard encouraged educators to “refuse to be ordinary. Be extraordinary. … Be a teacher that fuels the fire and creates a desire to learn. Find a way to inspire students and make learning fun and exciting.”
Teachers need to be lifelong learners, constantly seeking new ideas to meet students’ ever-changing needs, she said.
Superintendent Dan Tanoos described educating children as a calling and a blessing. “We’re in a position to make a difference in the life of every single child that enters every single school every single day,” he said. If teachers reach out, as Judy Hadley did for Anthony Thompson, “There is no goal too high for us to reach.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or email@example.com.