When eighth-grade Language Arts teacher Cheryl Steele checked her voicemail one fall day, the last thing she was expecting was a nomination for an award for her service in education. Steele, who has been teaching for 31 years, is the 2019 recipient of the Freedom Award for Education from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an award given to those who the organization believes have made a real difference in their community.
“You never expect to be honored for anything you just do for a living, this is what I love, this is what I do. So to be recognized for what I do and what I love, it’s just — words cannot express how excited I was,” Steele said.
A lot has changed in the many years Steele has been teaching here at Pine View. When she started her teaching career, the school was at its original campus and was comprised entirely of portables. And despite the lack of a developed campus, what made the job great for Steele was, and still is, the students.
“I don’t see a lot of changes in the eagerness to want to learn,
and to try to keep doing things,” she said.
In addition to teaching, for the past 15 years, Steele has been the sponsor for Diversity Club, a group of students dedicated to promoting diversity at Pine View and within the community. The message of the club and that of the NAACP are significant for Steele, giving this particular award a different meaning than past commendations.
“The NAACP and the history there and what they are always fighting for, fairness, equal opportunities, what they have done in a historical aspect and to get their award, I am proudest of that,” she said.
The awards ceremony was held Oct. 3 at the Hyatt in downtown Sarasota. On the big day, Steele was accompanied by her husband, her mother, and Assistant Principal of Curriculum Tricia Allen, who was representing Pine View. One surprise attendant was Jean Henry, a good friend and special past mentor of Steele’s, someone Steele admired greatly for her teaching methods and command of the classroom.
“She knew how to get them in the palm of her hand and keep them there and interested, and I would just watch her and say ‘one day, one day I will be like that,'” Steele said, regarding Henry.
It’s the possibilities of every new school year and the new students that keep Steele in love with her role as an educator here at Pine View.
“It’s never a dull moment in teaching. You are obviously trying to enhance what you do. That’s probably why I still do it — I don’t want to do it the same every year…I’m still excited about all of it,” Steele said.
Graphic by Felicity Chang