Approximately 1,600 employees from across District 49 attended a back-to-school event July 27 at Pikes Peak Center in Colorado Springs. Some of the most highly praised remarks were delivered by a high school student.
Evan Mahon is preparing to start 12th-grade at Vista Ridge High School. When he took the stage in the auditorium, it was packed with school administrators and teachers, a crowd that extended from the first row facing the stage to the balcony overlooking it.
Under a base camp theme, the event underlined a need to strengthen teams with clear goals and responsive support systems. In between presentations and activities, video clips highlighted the roughly 49 staff members who climbed Pikes Peak on July 18. The climbers described the effort as “summiting for students.”
During his remarks, Mahon received an enthusiastic ovation from staff members, who arrived from more than 20 schools and district offices. He clarified the critical and impassioned role they fill in preparing students for their next phase in life.
“I am honored to have been asked and I am blessed to be able to speak in front of such esteemed and honorable teachers and staff in District 49,” said Mahon, holding a microphone and several note cards.
“Hopefully, I can deliver a crescendo for the morning and give you all some inspiration for the upcoming school year,” he said.
“District 49 has given me so much and helped me grow as a student,” said Mahon, explaining that he’ll soon start his 12th year. “I hope this is how I can return that kindness.”
Mahon outlined a mission for himself as a student body president. He encouraged school faculty to apply the concepts he called “teaching with SOUL,” an acronym for sincere, or being authentic and genuine; overcome, confronting adversity; unique, being original and standing out; and lead, creating a positive environment.
‘Teaching with SOUL’
“We must focus on relationships this year that are authentic and genuine with students, parents and other educators. James Comer once said, ‘No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.’”
“Everybody in this room has been touched and mentored by an adult — someone you looked up to, who helped you become an educator, be confident in yourself.”
“It was someone you truly wanted to be as a child. Whether a coach or educator, someone inspired you to be where you are right now: Sitting in the Pikes Peak Center listening to a 17 year old impart knowledge on you.”
Cutting through the laughter, he said, “I’ve had so many different teachers that have touched my life and helped me grow and develop and become the leader and student I am today.”
“Whatever position you have in the district, the nature of our school district this year must be collaborative and cooperative, rather than competitive. We must focus this year on making sure we are authentic and genuine with everything we do.”
Reflecting on the recent journey up Pikes Peak, he said the climb “shows our strength, dedication, and how we are excited and innovative.”
“You are committed to something bigger than oneself. Your purpose in this field has a greater mission than what you may think. Educators mold and shape the youth of tomorrow."
“With everything going on in today’s world, we must teach students to be respectful, open-minded and empathetic to others.”
With regard to confronting adversity, Mahon said, “Teachers deserve Emmy Awards for how much you act,” referring to the award for excellence in the television actor industry.
“You have to come into work everyday and smile and be positive or else you will negatively impact the education of all your students.”
“Students already dread coming into school. Will you foster that attitude with how you deal with obstacles? Or will you help them be proud of you, their class, their school, and their district?”
“What makes you unique as a district employee? As a teacher? As a principal? As a counselor? We preach to kids all the time about finding their niche and being their own person and not being followers. Are you listening to your own advice? What makes you stand out?”
“Let students leave your class not only with an education but also with life skills they will remember. Put the effort into your class that you want from your students. Go out of your way to talk to that educator that you don't always socialize with.”
“Make you and your class be the class everyone looks forward to.”
“Let me tell you one thing: Kids don't learn from teachers they don't like. Go out of your way to help students understand material and make the personal connection. … You must go out of your way to help students be lifted to the point where they feel confident in themselves to be who they want to be.”
“When students come to you with ideas and plans for innovating the school or the classroom, don't turn them away. These students have a special sense of school. They are the kind that care about their student peers and want to see the best. Lead these students to success, don't turn them away and limit thinking. We want them to be articulate and improve our district. They are the future of District 49.”
“You are the most influential group of workers in this nation, building the future leaders and citizens of the world. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who weren't afraid to take risks, meet new people, think like innovators, know they can change the world, who weren't afraid to think and who all had a champion in their lives?”
“As a student, it is so humbling to see the amount of commitment and energy given by teachers throughout the year. We are truly blessed to be around educators who care about our growth and development as young adults.”
“It has truly been a blessing to speak in front of the thousands of educators who make us the best district to learn, work and lead.”