In the NFTE Chicago Metro office we take education seriously, and that is in no small part because we have each spent time at the head of the classroom. For this reason we know exactly what faces our NFTE teachers daily. Teaching is a challenging job for many reasons, but chief among them is that each student is going to bring their own lives into the classroom. It takes a certain determination to meet each student where they are, and to find a path to success no matter the obstacles.
We know that teachers tirelessly work toward this end and give their all to their students daily, and we could not be more excited or more proud to announce that Mr. Danny Gray, a NFTE teacher at Thornwood High School in South Holland, IL, has received the 2016 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership.
Congratulations Mr. Gray!
Mr. Danny Gray is a huge part of the Thornwood community. He is not just a teacher, but also a mentor, a confidant, a person to go to for support. He leads several clubs, including “A Few Good Men”, a club where young men can find support from their male elders. Mr. Gray knows that many of the students in his community don’t have strong support systems when they leave his care, and he has made it his mission to make sure that his students know that there are many opportunities to be successful.
It is clear when talking to his students, that Mr. Gray excels because he approaches their challenges with empathy and reassurance. “I always try to put myself in their shoes, I put their lives first,” he says. This gives the students confidence and actionable tools to move forward. In speaking with some of his former students, it was evident that they had a strong relationship with their teacher and friend.
“Mr. Gray is the reason I am doing some of the things I am doing today. He pushed me when I was in high school. He pulled me out of class and told me I wasn’t doing my best and that he know I could do, a lot of things, I don’t even remember what he said, but I believed him, and said, ‘yeah, I can do that’”.
Mr. Gray naturally approaches his students in ways that embody the entrepreneurial mindset – he truly collaborates with his students, he problem solves, and he innovates. Maybe that is why he is so successful as a NFTE teacher.
5 years ago Mr. Gray began teaching NFTE’s entrepreneurship curriculum with only one section, and he was so passionate about the course, that he advocated to offer the program to more students. He now teaches NFTE exclusively, reaching about 100 students annually.
“NFTE inspires kids to want to be successful, and gives them skills that can be utilized beyond the classroom. I am a little biased, but I know that this class, is by far, the best business class ever. I have taught several, and there is no comparison. The skills taught in the NFTE curriculum are amazing! The resources are amazing! The professional development is amazing! And OMG, the business competition that the kids prepare for, it’s amazing!”
In his time with NFTE, 2 teams of students from Thornwood High School have advanced to the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. During the 2011 school year, Jesus Fernandez and Teheeb Okenla built their NFTE business plan around the idea of creating soccer socks with a built in space for 360° shin guards. Under the guidance of Mr. Gray, they not only advanced to, and won, the National competition but they are currently waiting for the first shipment of their product to arrive from the manufacturer.
We chatted with Jesus and Toheeb about their former teacher’s Golden Apple.
“That’s awesome, that’s absolutely awesome. I am not surprised he would win such an award. I don’t know what other kind of teacher would win. I just can’t think of any teacher that would deserve an award like this more than Mr. Gray. He really, really, really, really deserves it. He works so hard. He works so, so hard. He still contacts us on a regular basis. He cares about his students, and still even when his students don’t believe in themselves that much at first. Definitely a well-deserved award.”
It was clear from the joy in their voices, the enthusiasm of their words, and the success they have seen in their lives, that these two former students not only hold Mr. Gray in high esteem, but also still feel his presence as a positive and guiding force.
So, Mr. Gray, we here at NFTE Chicago Metro THANK YOU for being who you are to your students – our students – and we look forward to all of your, and their, achievements in the years to come.
To learn more about Golden Apple and the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership, visit their website.