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Teacher Gregory Irwin receives the Teachers of Hope and Promise Award. He is pictured here with Dr. Jennifer Rukstad, principal, and members of the Worley Street Roundtable. Photo by Bailey Stover.

RBHS’s Teacher of Hope

With a “Everybody stop what you’re doing,” Dr. Jennifer Rukstad, principal, entered English teacher Gregory Irwin’s room followed by members of the Worley Street Roundtable,holding a certificate balloons and a check for $500.

Their arrival came as a surprise in the midst of his class’ focused review for the Advanced Placement World History exam, which was less than a week away on Thursday, May 10.

The Worley Street Roundtable is a local organization that works to fight implicit bias in school settings as well as to make education a student, parent and community effort. What started as weekly meetings at Worley Street Manor is now an organization that has partnered with Columbia Public Schools and local universities.

“This year we are initiating Teachers of Hope and Promise, offering recognition to teachers who work to make sure that all students succeed,” Dr. Doris Littrell, a board member of Worley Street Roundtable, said in an email to Rukstad. “We asked students in Columbia’s middle and secondary schools to nominate their teachers for this honor. We have received several wonderful nominations and it was a difficult choice with so many dedicated educators.”

The award came as a shock to Irwin. He had had prior knowledge of the award, but his nomination was pure serendipity.

“It was a surprise. I accidently attached the recommendation form on Schoology instead of a youth volunteer form,” Irwin sad. “They were both PDFs, and I accidently got the wrong one because they were gobbledygook-named. Someone let me know that I put the wrong thing, so then I attached the real thing, and I just left the other one on there. But then apparently the students were just like ‘Ah, I thought you wanted us to recommend you.’ Hopefully it was that they think ‘hey my teacher deserves this award and not just ‘Hey, you should do this thing for me.’”

Sophomore Audrey Snyder was looking for an opportunity to bolster her college applications when she came upon a form prompting her to nominate a teacher of Hope and Promise. She figured she should pursue her mistake to see where it would take her.

“I chose Irwin because of how he always goes the extra mile to be there for his students,” Snyder said. “Regardless of his time or schedule, he will always be patient and support support whatever weird dodgeball high school has thrown at them, especially considering how busy he is grading, scheduling special speakers for the class, fostering children, him suffering graciously through our catastrophes means all the more.”

For Irwin, supporting students is all in a day’s work. Rather than claim the credit for his award, he spoke of how other teachers that deserved the recognition and how important his students are to him.

“I think in the future it was such an honor to get it I’m going to try to make sure other good teacher s at this school get recommended,” Irwin said. “Obviously the financial reward is very, very nice, but I think the recognition if far more significant that we as teachers matter and that we are making a positive impact on kids’ lives and not just saddling them with a bunch of homework.”

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