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To Win a Teaching Oscar,It Takes More Than Words

In an awards program for cutting-edge education techniques, Charles Myers is the first career and technical teacher to win. Another first: The dissapearance of his well-known gift of gab.

Students at Woonsocket (R.I.) Area Career and Technical Center often say their construction trades technology teacher, Charles R. Myers Jr., has a story for just about anything that comes up. Myers was speechless, though, when awarded the Milken Family Foundation National Educators Award in October.

Sometimes called the “Oscar of Teaching,” the award includes an unrestricted financial award of $25,000. Myers is the first career and technical education teacher to receive the honor, which recognizes innovative programs and cutting-edge teaching techniques.

So what’s going on in Woonsocket? When Myers first began teaching there, the construction technology program was facing some big problems: high student apathy, low enrollment, even a chance it would be closed. He wanted to design something different. “I wanted to do something that benefited my students, benefited the community and helped our students get a better education,” he says. Myers’ plan was to build affordable housing in low-income areas. His students do all the work: everything from design to finish. The town demolishes an abandoned building, and, on the site, the students build an affordable home for a first-time buyer. When the home sells, their program gets a $10,000 donation that goes directly back to the students in the form of tools and scholarships. Myers worked hard and applied for grants to get the program started, and insists that his co-instructor and SkillsUSA co-chair, Brian Vadeboncoeur, is equally responsible for its success. “Between the two of us,” he adds, “we’re really trying to change vocational construction education.”

Their efforts have led to better local partnerships and a better image in general. “We have been working really well with the Rhode Island Builders Association, and that helps validate what I’m teaching and why I’m teaching it,” Myers says. “It carries a little more clout when you’re talking to other groups about trying to change funding or grants.”

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With all this effort, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Myers was recognized by the foundation. It surprised him, though — he didn’t even know an award was being given that day.

“They told me it was a SkillsUSA assembly,” he laughs. “They announced my name, and that was a shock.”

Myers’ well-known gift of gab left him when he came to the podium. “For once I really don’t know what to say,” he said to howls of appreciative laughter from his students.

That’s all right. Everyone knows actions speak louder than words.

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SkillsUSA Champions | Spring 2004 | Volume 38, No. 3
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