By Eric Herr
For The Star
Stories about personal achievement, raising the bar and having a passion for excellence are sometimes tough to find amid headlines rife with marital infidelity, cataclysmic natural disasters, international terrorism and skyrocketing fuel costs, not to mention murders, armed robberies and other assorted crimes.
But that’s OK with Kensington’s Kim Gavin, a teacher at the William Cramp Elementary School at Ontario and Mascher streets. She’s one of nine finalists for this years prestigious Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre Teacher of the Year Award.
“Lets face it, drama sells and it always will,” she mused. “But, regardless of some often tragic events that unfold around us, I think it’s important to stay focused on the positives in life and look at each new day as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.”
It’s that kind of optimism and passion that drives Kim Gavin, who is admittedly energized and amazed daily by her pupils in kindergarten through the sixth grade.
Fellow faculty members and many others have noted her enthusiasm and over-the-top efforts in advancing educational excellence and instilling a sense of confidence in her pupils.
Cramp Elementary School Principal Deanda Logan, who nominated Gavin for the award, now in its 27th year, said the honor is well-deserved.
“It was the consensus of her colleagues that Kim is not only an outstanding art teacher but an extraordinary team member who daily goes above and beyond to challenge, enrich and support the needs of her students, her colleagues and the parents, and the school community at large,” said Logan.
Gavin, an upstate New Yorker intrigued with Philadelphia’s rich history and many cultural offerings, moved to Kensington back in 1999 and has had an ongoing love affair with the city ever since.
She worked as a graphic designer before the teaching bug bit and, for Gavin, it was truly one of those light bulb moments.
“I was listening to a radio station in New Orleans over the Internet and they were talking about how important it is to have teachers who are passionate about what they do. So, I went back to school, got my teaching certificate at Moore College of Art and Design and started teaching,” recalled Gavin, currently a candidate for a master’s degree in art education with an emphasis in special populations at Moore.
Lynne Horoschak, graduate program manager for the masters in art education at Moore, is proud of this unique program.
“It’s the only one of its kind in the country that works with art instructors to enable the learning of children with disabilities through art,” said Horoschak, who eventually hopes to expand the program to include senior citizens.
Horoschak is working closely with Kim, her former student, as well as other master’s degree candidates on a project tangentially tied in with a broader curriculum called Literacy Through Photography.
This grant-funded initiative encourages students to take photographs about their dreams, their families or of whatever else they wish and then write a story about those pictures.
“These works are absolutely phenomenal and were created by kids who have struggled with literacy and writing all their lives,” notes Gavin enthusiastically, adding that many of her students wrote page after page about the photographs they took.
According to Gavin, one student even wrote a book about enemies becoming friends.
The general public can see the Literacy Through Photography exhibition, showcasing both the photography and writings from five schools including Cramp Elementary, at Moore College of Art and Design, through Sept. 10.
As a Philadelphia School District art teacher with more than 30 years tenure to her credit before coming to Moore, Horoschak has developed a keen instinct for spotting talent.
“Kim is extraordinary and what makes her stand out is her passion for teaching and for her students,” Horoschak said, adding that she would love to see a similar passion in all educators.
She, like so many others has contributed to getting Kim Gavin’s name on the short list for the highly acclaimed and prestigious Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre Teacher of the Year Award.
According to Barbara Farley, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia School District, the longstanding award, named after Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre (1910-1998) is in its 27th year.
“Doctor Hayre was tremendously accomplished in so many areas and was always a staunch advocate of education, especially as it related to urban teenagers in Philadelphia,” notes Farley.
She goes on to cite many “firsts” for Doctor Hayre, including being the first full-time African-American high school teacher in the Philadelphia public school system, the first African-American senior high school principal as well as the first woman to serve as president of the Philadelphia Board of Education.
Hayre also received honors and awards from dozens of local and national organizations, including the University of Pennsylvania and the NAACP.
The award winner, selected from a field of nine finalists, will receive a $2,500 stipend from Lincoln Investment Planning Inc. and the other eight teachers will receive $250 each from the district.
The honoree will be named soon, school district officials said.
Kim Gavin is humbled by even the thought of nomination for this award and is quick to mention that no one can be successful without the support of colleagues, family, friends and the community.
Her philosophy and secrets to success are simple: set high expectations and raise the bar.
“At the beginning of the year, I set the ground rules so all my students know what they can expect of me and what I expect of them,” she said. “I always emphasize that the ultimate quality of any finished work comes first and ask my students if they think their projects are deserving of an A grade.”
Gavin added that, through interactive evaluation and a constructive feedback process, a pupil is far more likely to take ownership of the task at hand and has a better understanding and appreciation of his or her project.
“Now more than ever, our kids need to have people who are engaged with them at all levels and can relate in a very personal and meaningful way,” she said. ••