By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Scott Wade ’07 remembers the day his teaching career began.
It was in late September, 2001. Wade, an award-winning journalist, was writing a story for the Courier Journal about ESL programs in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), and stopped in at Atherton High School to observe a class in session. A boy named Darko, from Bosnia, asked him for a little help with his schoolwork. When Wade got up to leave, Darko asked, “Are you coming back tomorrow?”
“That one question changed my life forever,” Wade said. “I learned of Kentucky’s new Alternative Certification program and four months later, I was Darko’s teacher, in that very classroom.”
Today Wade is one of 24 Valvoline Teaching Achievement Award recipients, from among 2,800 nominations. As such, he is one of only eight finalists for Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year.
The award winners will be announced in October. If Wade wins, it will cap a remarkable and wholly unexpected career in teaching.
An award-winning journalist in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Louisville, Wade had made a name for himself with hard-hitting investigative stories, and earned plaudits for his work on the education beat. It was that focus that had brought him face to face with Darko, and with the plight of newly arrived immigrants from regions of conflict.
In a very real sense, Wade became part of the story he had been covering, and enjoyed the satisfaction of directly impacting the lives of these future members of the community.
He received his Master of Science in Education from IU Southeast in 2007.
As an instructor, Wade has focused on English language learners like Darko, first as director of the ESL program at Atherton High School in Louisville, and since 2015 as ELA department chair at Newcomer Academy.
Newcomer Academy is a unique school within JCPS, meeting the needs of sixth- through tenth-grade English language learners. All students are beginning English speakers, and most are in their first year of instruction in a U.S. school. According to the school’s website, many Newcomer students have had limited or interrupted educational experiences in their native countries.
For Wade, the Newcomer experience has been a profound shift.
At Atherton, the ESL community was small, At Newcomer, every single student is an immigrant. It’s more than a different job, it’s a different culture.
“At the Newcomer Academy, all students in the building have great empathy for each other because all of them are brand new to America, having left some life struggles,” Wade said. “They don’t have to deal with feelings of judgment or being left out.”
That solidarity is key to meeting the very real challenges of life outside the school.
“Imagine if you found yourself in Burundi or Syria or Nepal and you had one school year to learn to read, write and speak this language before facing a world where no one spoke English,” Wade said. “That’s what 100 percent of my students face.”
Their emergency easily becomes Wade’s emergency.
“If I fail to help them get to the next level, they enter a world they cannot comprehend and their struggle will continue,” Wade said.
For Wade, such stresses are relieved by the attitude of the students themselves.
“Every day in my class, students push themselves to learn,” Wade said.
He is inspired by the lack of complaint from children whose families have undergone terrible hardships and continue to live with uncertainty.
“They learn joyfully, eagerly, and help each other,” Wade said. “They bond in their common missions, and I get to be part of that every day.”
Over the years, Wade’s efforts have been recognized with news coverage and awards, including the Outstanding Alumni Award from the IU Southeast School of Education.
Dr. Susan Ridout, professor of education, recalls Wade’s positive contribution to the graduate program at IU Southeast.
“Knowledgeable, curious, professional, interesting, creative, bright, kind, patient, supportive, energetic–these are descriptors of Scott Wade, as a teacher and as a person,” Ridout said. “When he was my student, it was a treat to visit his classroom and witness his award-winning instruction, academic and language support, and personal interactions with his students from across the globe. The respect the students had for their teacher and he had for them was evident.”
Wade feels that the Valvoline Teaching Achievement Award reflects his “hard work and dedication to helping students successfully enter their new world in their new lives.”
For this distinction, applications included information on the nominees’ teaching philosophies, teaching experiences and involvement in their respective communities, as well as letters of recommendation from peers, students, parents, administrators and others.
One of these documents in particular reveals the esteem and gratitude that Wade enjoys from the Newcomer community.
“A student whose family had been affected by the fallout of the Rwanda massacre wrote in a recommendation letter that when she came to America she didn’t understand anything in English, yet had just been named the Outstanding African American at her college,” Wade said.
The student wrote that Wade’s dedication had contributed to her success. For the award ceremony, she was allowed to invite only two people.
“She chose her mother and me,” Wade said.
Homepage photo courtesy of Scott Wade.