The Dewey Awards are a tradition at Charter School Capital. This annual essay contest about one’s favorite teacher was created in 2017 by Stuart Ellis, our Founder and CEO.
Who Was Richard Dewey?
Stuart met his favorite teacher at eight years old. By eight, Stuart had already caught on that people would scold him whenever he did anything differently — whenever he “painted outside the lines.” Math — always a passion for Stuart — was an example. Apparently, there was ONE way to solve a math problem, and if eight-yr-old Stuart solved the problem, arriving at the correct answer, using unconventional processes, that was to be discouraged. Mr. Richard Dewey was different.
Mr. Dewey celebrated Stuart’s ability to do the arithmetic in his head — while also coaching him on the processes, for the time when the process would become more complicated.
“This is a treasure that you should hold forever!” wrote Mr. Dewey on Stuart’s first research paper (on California’s gray whales).
Richard Dewey made his students feel they had limitless potential. He took qualities Stuart had internalized as ‘bad’ and suggested they were great. Mr. Dewey made each kid feel ‘more than’ without making anyone feel ‘less than.’ He made them all feel they had limitless potential.
Fundamentally, Mr. Dewey made his students feel loved.
In a class of thirty-plus children, every child was seen. Mr. Dewey was a talented musician, and had managed to install a grand piano in his class. He would compose little rhyming songs about each kid – songs that Stuart remembers to this day.
A Class Reunion
In 2004, more than 30 members of Mr. Dewey’s class showed up for a thirty-year reunion. Sadly, Stuart arrived fifteen minutes after his former teacher had left, and the opportunity for a reconnection was missed. This prompted Stuart to write a Holiday card along with a letter, with details about his adult life and his family. In a heartwarming surprise, Mr. Dewey’s response included vivid recollections of Stuart as an eight-year-old, and all the things the teacher had noticed as potential in the student — things that had come to fruition in Stuart’s adult life.
Mr. Dewey’s letter was so uplifting it made Stuart cry. He was surprised how, at forty years of age, he could be so moved by this man’s words as he was as a child.
A Long-Awaited Reconnection
In 2017 Stuart got his chance to reconnect with his favorite teacher — who now asked Stuart to call him Rich. They met for three-and-a-half hours, and even that felt too short. Stuart tried to convey the deep impact his teacher had had in his life. They both cried.
Afterwards, Rich wrote Stuart expressing his own thoughts — how he had been reflecting, asking himself if he had had a significant positive impact on others throughout his life.
As the frequency of notes and calls grew, Rich and Stuart became good friends. The calls became a daily routine, and they were a joy for both men.
Mt. Dewey’s superpower was his vulnerability. He shared openly about his fears and challenges. He was courageous; he always put others ahead of himself.
Lessons in Life & Death
As Rich grew ill and faced his own mortality, his lesson to Stuart took on a deeper meaning — covering matters spiritual and philosophical.
In June 2019 Richard Dewey passed away. Stuart feels his presence still, and he is happy to see the Dewey Awards honor Rich’s memory.
A Passion to Help Educators
It was the influence of Mr. Dewey — along with other mentors – that led Stuart to devote his energies to the founding of Charter School Capital, with a mission to bolster and empower maverick educators, leaders in education. The whole purpose of our company is to support charter schools, help their growth and guarantee their survival.
Our Favorite Teachers
Most of us have had mentors, teachers in our lives who have inspired us to greatness. Teachers who saw in us potential we may not have even seen in ourselves. Teachers who push us to be the best we can be, to achieve all we can achieve.
The Dewey Awards are meant to celebrate such teachers.
We invite all charter school students to write in to our contest and tell us about your favorite teacher. We will select three winners, and each of these will receive a $1,000 charter school grant in the name of the school of your choice.