Six months after she was handed a check for $25,000 — a reward for years of inspiring teaching — Broad Ripple High School math teacher Deb Wolinsky said the money was the least important part of winning a Hubbard Life-Changing Teacher Award.
The brainchild of Indianapolis philanthropists Al and Kathy Hubbard, the awards called for nominations from former students and others for teachers who changed lives. They were first awarded last year and nominations were opened today for next year’s awards.
Even more than the generous financial gift, the student nominating letters meant the world to Wolinsky.
“They could have stopped right there,” she said. “What they wrote was priceless. When I have a bad day, I pull them out and read them and remember why I do what I do.”
The Hubbards said they were moved to honor great Indianapolis Public Schools teachers last fall after reading a newspaper column about Jamie Kalb, who helped turn around the life of one her most troubled students. She was the first winner.
The Hubbards then set out to find and honor more teachers with annual awards they have pledged to support financially for at least three years. Working with United Way of Central Indiana and their family foundation, they created a process to name 10 finalists, all of whom earn at least $1,000. Four grand prize winners get $25,000 each.
The nomination period, which runs through Jan. 24, kicked off with an event at United Way featuring awards spokesman George Hill of the Indiana Pacers, IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and United Way Worldwide President Brian Gallagher.
“Teachers do a lot more than just teaching and learning,” Ferebee said. “They support students and their families in so many ways.”
Nominations can be made online at TeacherAward.org, and paper forms are available at public libraries. Full-time teachers at IPS schools, or one of four former IPS schools in state takeover (Donnan Middle School and Howe, Manual and Arlington high schools), are eligible.
“We encourage everyone associated with IPS, whether you graduated 15 years ago, or 5 years ago or are a student now, to please get in your nominations,” Al Hubbard said.
All four of last year’s grand prize winners were in attendance for the kick-off to reminisce and promote the second year of the program. Perhaps the most memorable moment from the awards dinner in May came when a group of students of Cynthia Hartshorn, of one of the grand prize winners who teaches choir and drama at Arsenal Tech High School, surprised her with a sidewalk serenade in celebration as she exited the event. After a few minutes, a large group joined in with Hartshorn and her students.
Hartshorn said the six months since she won the prize have been rewarding personally and professionally.
“It was a heck of a nice pat on the back,” she said.
Given that most IPS teachers went five years without a raise, Hartshorn said the money was much appreciated. It helped her pay off some personal debts.
But she was also able use some of the money to do things for people she cared about. She took her husband on vacation, and they bought a new mattress. She bought gifts for family. One day at a regular post-church brunch with her friends, she picked up the tab for everyone. She also gave some money to Arsenal Tech.
But now she’s focused on Arsenal’s Spring musical: Shrek. That announcement touched off a crazy celebration from her students, she said, and has resulted in huge enthusiasm for the show.
This year, 88 kids are going to be part of the performance. Last year’s musical — Oklahoma! — only drew 45 participants.
“They all grew up with the Shrek movies,” she said, “so they’re excited.”