On Thursday, May 4th, HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op will join the Douglas County School District, our charter authorizer, to honor the 2017 Apple Awards recipients. Apples Awards recognize and celebrate the excellent and innovative teachers and faculty in the district. This year Ms. Jorji Sharp and Mr. Anthony Watson are HOPE's representatives.
An inspirational teacher
Ms. Jorji Sharp remembers the exact moment she knew she wanted to be a teacher. It was when she met her high school math teacher.
“She was phenomenal, and I caught on to concepts quickly,” recalls Ms. Sharp. “I was able to be a teacher’s assistant in her class and got a glimpse of what it was like to help others. A good teacher can make all the difference.”
Teaching is something that many are doing in Ms. Sharp’s family. Her brother, sister and several aunts and cousins are also in the profession. Ms. Sharp is a native Nebraskan and earned her secondary teaching degree in English with an ESL endorsement from Wayne State College in 2012. She joined the educator ranks at HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op in 2013.
“This is a good fit for me,” said Ms. Sharp about working for HOPE. “You get to wear many hats, and that is something I have embraced.”
Ms. Sharp has had the opportunity to work at several HOPE Learning Centers. She has been with Front Range Academy in Broomfield, which serves grades 6-12, for several years. This Learning Center is one of HOPE’s locations that qualifies as an Alternative Education Campus for serving a high percentage of high-risk students. During her time, she has been able to connect with students and make a positive impact.
“Teaching for HOPE is a humbling experience. Our students go through a lot of tough situations, and I’ve learned they lean on me to be a positive adult role model in their life,” said Ms. Sharp.
The students and staff who interact with Ms. Sharp on a daily basis are in awe of her contributions to their Learning Center.
“She’s taught me to love school, and I am finding success. I am proud of myself,” said one of Ms. Sharp’s students, Jakob, who was close to being a school dropout.
“I have never met someone who cares as much as Ms. Sharp does about our students. She goes above and beyond for them and doesn’t let any obstacle stand her way. We all appreciate her so much!” said Ms. Jennifer Stengel, one of the Front Range Academy staff members.
One of Ms. Sharp’s favorite parts of her job is working with the graduating seniors and counseling them as they get ready to take the next step.
“It is gratifying when a student finally believes they have what it takes to graduate,” said Ms. Sharp.
Ms. Sharp’s dedication to her students doesn’t stop in the classroom. She recognizes that extracurricular activities can contribute to academic success and build comradery among the student body. Ms. Sharp encourages her students to get involved in HOPE activities. She chaperoned at several Proms and also organized and coached a high school girls’ volleyball team at her center in the fall.
“Ms. Sharp’s no-nonsense attitude has helped her quickly become one of our shining stars,” said Dr. Susan McAlonan, HOPE’s Director of Student Services and Ms. Sharp’s supervisor. “We appreciate everything she is doing for our students.”
One of HOPE’s 2017 Apple Awards representatives is Ms. Sharp. This is an honor that recognizes outstanding educators in the Douglas County School District. Ms. Sharp will be honored at an event on May 4 at the Douglas County Events Center.
“I am honored to be chosen to represent HOPE at the Apple Awards. I strive to be consistent and reliable with the responsibilities and relationships of my job. I would not be the teacher I am today without the incredible team I am privileged to work alongside. Together, we ensure the success of the students we work with every day. I am looking forward to the future and continuing to grow in my profession,” said Ms. Sharp.
Embracing the HOPE community education model
Little did Mr. Anthony Watson know five years ago that he would today be leading a successful HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op Learning Center in north Denver. When the opportunity presented itself to serve as Director of HOPE at I AM Academy in 2012, it was a natural fit for Mr. Watson who had experience in working with at-risk youth. Nearly 18 percent of the 104 students at I AM Academy are classified as homeless and nearly 90 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch, according to 2016/2017 statistics.
“This position allows me to develop potential in others, whether it be students or staff,” said Mr. Watson.
Mr. Watson has built an extensive support system for I AM Academy’s students and families. He has worked hard to have at his fingertips access to a variety of organizations that can help with healthcare, housing, food and more.
“I want to break the cycle of poverty. There is a way to solve all problems,” said Mr. Watson.
Both Mr. Watson and his staff have been there when students and their families were facing some large obstacles. But, working together, they have played a role in making a difference.
“Many times when our students are in crisis, they still show up for class because they count on us to help them navigate their tough situations,” said Mr. Watson.
I AM Academy has become a leader in their neighborhood. In fact, a couple of years ago when a local police officer was injured on the job, the students at I AM stepped forward and brought cookies and cards to the neighborhood station to show their support. This is one of the countless service projects the I AM students do each year as the staff knows it is important to teach youth how to serve their community in a positive way.
“Giving back energizes our students. My staff and I find it rewarding to know we are playing a role in making a difference in our students’ lives,” said Mr. Watson.
Not only do students and families benefit from I AM Academy, but the staff who are employed there are also being elevated to new levels of professionalism through Mr. Watson’s leadership. I AM is just one of several HOPE Learning Centers helping to see teachers of color become a more prominent occurrence in our schools. This is being done by seeking out pathways for all staff who are doing great work with the children to become licensed teachers.
“The support I get from him and the trust he puts in me are amazing,” said Ms. Lisa Walden, HOPE Teacher at I AM Academy. Ms. Walden recently completed HOPE’s alternative teaching certification program. “There is mutual respect among all staff and this leads to a positive and fun work environment. He brings great energy to this Learning Center.”
Mr. Watson is humbled this school year to be named one of HOPE’s representatives for the Douglas County School District Apple Awards. He says this honor is a reflection on his entire team.
“We are looking forward to expanding our work and reach in future,” said Mr. Watson, who will be taking over leadership of a HOPE Learning Center in Lakewood next school year. “HOPE can help students and families in crisis find their way. Everyone has the ability to overcome the impossible and there is no child that can’t achieve academic greatness.”
The caring touch extends into the classrooms at I AM as well. Mr. Watson and his team work hard to make sure their kindergarten through eighth graders have a plan in place to reach their full potential. They never want any student they serve to fall through the cracks. The team focuses on both classroom work and attendance. The achievements of the students at I AM have increased dramatically through the years.
“I like everything about going here, and Mr. Watson is awesome. They teach us to work in teams and help out around the school. I’ve grown a lot. I would never go to anywhere else,” said I AM Academy 6th grader Lillyanna.
The Douglas County School District will honor outstanding educators, including Mr. Watson, at the 2017 Apples Awards on May 4 at the Douglas County Events Center. Mr. Watson was nominated by his peers to be a HOPE representative.