Donna Pope-Green was Chris Huffins’ greatest teacher, even though she never officially had him in a class.
She was his track coach at Northwest High School. But they talked about more than running, jumping and throwing. Sometimes she’d use events like the long jump to reinforce academic concepts like geometry.
Huffins went on to a storied career as a track and field athlete and coach, now at Purdue University. His many accolades include an Olympic bronze medal in decathlon in the 2000 Sydney games.
But in a video tribute to Pope-Green at tonight’s Hubbard Life-Changing Teacher Awards tonight, Huffins said he thinks of his own life as linking her wisdom to the young athletes he mentors today.
“People like Donna Pope-Green make people make Chris Huffins,” he said. “For me, the way I know to truly pay her back is to make more like me. In the end, they all come from her tree.”
Pope-Green, a track coach and physical education teacher, was selected as one of the four $25,000 winners from among 10 finalists at the Eiteljorg Museum event.
“I think it helps me to understand there is a little more to learning than just giving a lesson,” Pope-Green said. “It’s about relationship building for the kids to understand me, and themselves, a little better.”
The awards are the brainchild of Al and Kathy Hubbard, Indianapolis philanthropists and supporters of education causes. They were moved to find a way to honor Indianapolis Public Schools teachers in 2013 after reading a newspaper column about an inspiring IPS teacher who changed lives.
They set out to find and honor more life-changing teacher each year. Putting up their own money, the selected 10 finalists. All of the runners up earned $1,000. In all 161 teachers at 57 IPS schools and programs were nominated, fewer than the 231 educators at 65 schools nominated in the program’s first year.
Meet the other winners
When Trenee Lambert was a student at Manual High School, times were tough in her life. Her father had been murdered when she was in fifth grade. Her family had to move in with relatives and eventually she was helping support them by working in fast food during high school.
But that’s also when Roslyn Stradford, an Advanced Placement English teacher now at Shortridge High School, began to notice Lambert’s struggle.
“In my students, I see myself,” she said. “I see children who know hunger. I see children who know abuse. School is a safe haven.”
In Lambert, she saw a girl who needed someone in her life that she could depend on. So Stradford started to treat her like a daughter.
“She called me her kindred spirit,” Lambert said. “I had no idea what that meant. I thought, ‘how can I inspire her? I’m just a kid.’”
Today Lambert is an IPS teacher herself at School 19. Like Huffins, she is passing on what she learned.
At Broad Ripple high school, English and humanities teacher Doris Young has a simple guiding principle for good teaching that she knows might sound corny: love.
“Love your subject matter and love the kids,” she said. “Most of all you have to love the kids. They challenge me. I’ve had to teach myself an awful lot of things.”
How beloved is Young, who is retiring this spring, to her students? One of them carries a picture of her in her phone case because it makes her smile.
“No matter what culture we have, we all have the same basic fears and desires,” Young said. “We really are all alike.”
While the rest of the winners work in high schools, at the back end of their students’ K-12 school experiences, one winning teacher works on front end.
Ann Mennonno is a first and second grade teacher at School 27, a Center For Inquiry magnet school. Her job is to inspire a love of learning in young children that will last a lifetime.
She knows it when she sees it.
“I love when they are reading a book and they giggle because I know that they get it,” she said, “when those light bulb moments come on.”
Mennonno is already a decorated teacher. In her 14 years as a teacher, Mennono has twice been IPS teacher of the year. He impact is demonstrable: In 2013 alone she took a class with only 27 percent of students reading on grade level and raised them to 95 percent at grade level by year’s end.
Mennonno even launched a non-profit group called Hearts in Education Teacher Outreach, which sends teachers on missions trips around the world to build schools and bring supplies.
“She helped me as a good reader and a good writer,” said Penelope Peter, one of her second-grade students.
Finalists came from across Indianapolis
- Dave Davies, agriculture and science teacher at Emma Donnan Middle School
- Laura DeHart, a teacher at School 107
- Apple Quick, a teacher and the creator of Project SITE (for Skills for Independence, Transition, and Employment), a program that helps students bridge between high school and their next steps in life
- Melissa Scherle, second grade teacher at School 14
- Marleen Signer, teacher of students with significant disabilities at McFarland School
- Angela Tipton, English teacher at Key Learning Community School