June 2013
May 23, 2013

Going to college with help from the union

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
scholarship winners
Caption: The Beacon TA recognizes students and teachers through its annual scholarship contest. Graduating seniors must write an essay about their most memorable teacher. The teacher, in turn, presents the scholarship award to the winning student. From left, Beacon middle school teacher Brian Guillet was cited by scholarship winner Erica Hutchens as her most influential teacher. Retiring high school English teacher Pat DeLeo, center, was honored by both Kristen Battersby and Jessica Segreti. At right is Beacon TA President Kim Atwell. Photo provided.

At Beacon High School's annual scholarship evening, the graduating seniors aren't the only ones recognized.

Teachers are honored, too, after Beacon Teachers Association President Kim Atwell put an interesting twist on the local union's annual scholarship contest years ago. Student scholarship applicants are asked to write an essay about their most influential teacher. Some go all the way back to that memorable kindergarten teacher; others describe how an unforgettable educator changed the way they looked at themselves or influenced them to take a different path in life.

"It really dramatically illustrates how teachers change lives everyday," Atwell said. "Some of our teachers are very surprised by what makes an impression on their former students. It can be a very emotional presentation."

Every June, the BTA's three $1,000 scholarship awards are presented to students by the teacher recognized in their essays.

"We keep it a secret, but it's really heartwarming when the student is called up to the stage by their most influential teacher," said BTA Scholarship Committee chair Dave Ryley. Beacon is one of hundreds of NYSUT locals that show how much they value education by collectively awarding more than $2 million in scholarships to college-going students at graduation ceremonies every June.

Scholarships range from $25 to the $5,000 awards the United Federation of Teachers gives each year to 250 academically excellent and financially eligible students from New York City public schools.

Many locals, such as Eden and Commack, award scholarships for students who intend to pursue a degree in education. Massapequa FT earmarks scholarships for those going into education or labor relations fields. Others, such as Hewlett-Woodmere, award scholarships to students who contribute to the community in positive ways. Other funds are established in the names of deceased educators, with grants awarded for specialized study in social work, special education or a certain subject area. Many retiree groups also present scholarship awards.

In higher education, United University Professions, NYSUT's local representing academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, awards both the Eugene P. Link scholarship, recognizing students who demonstrate academic excellence, a commitment to social justice and dedication to the goals of the trade union movement; and scholarships to the children of UUP members attending SUNY colleges.

The Professional Staff Congress, representing faculty and staff at the City University of New York, has the Belle Zeller Scholarship Trust Fund, named in honor of the union's founding president. Community College and BOCES local unions also present awards to students in their programs.

Scholarship funds are raised throughout the school year in a variety of ways, including dress down days, charity basketball and softball games, 5K races, bake sales and more.