Teachers say money is just one part of Hubbard Award's impact

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Hubbard Life-Changing Teacher Award winners Tina Ahren, Deb Wolinsky, Rhonda Pierre and Cynthia Hartshorn at last year's awards dinner.

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, 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.”


Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.