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Teacher of the Year uses honor to advocate


President Trump gets refugee students’ letters

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterians Today • Photos courtesy of Mandy Manning

Mandy Manning was named 2018’s National Teacher of the Year. Manning has used the recognition to get her immigrant and refugee students’ stories heard.

Presbyterian Mandy Manning, in Spokane, Washington, admits she’s “a little tired” of the attention she’s received this year as National Teacher of the Year, but it’s also been a welcome opportunity for her to share her students’ stories. Manning was awarded the title in April by the Council of Chief School State Officers. The honor was first awarded in 1952 and continues as the oldest, most prestigious national honor that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching.

As the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, Manning was honored at the White House for her work with immigrant and refugee students. After the ceremony, Manning  handed President Donald Trump letters written by her refugee and immigrant students. They wanted him to know their stories — and how happy they were, as future citizens, to be a part of the Ferris High School community, Spokane and nation.

As new immigrant and refugee students, they spend their first semester with Manning in an all-day English language program. As she works with her students on the foundations of English, Manning makes sure they feel comfortable, welcomed and loved.

“If they know we are happy they’re here — that they matter — they gain confidence to be successful, productive members of our school community,” she said.

Every day when the immigrant and refugee students come into her classroom, Manning sees their immense potential — and the hope they represent, not just for themselves but also for society.

“There’s so much happiness in the classroom,” she said. “As they gain confidence, each person begins to believe they can do anything.”

Manning says, though, that she doesn’t do this work alone. She gives credit to her local congregation, Bethany Presbyterian Church in Spokane, for giving her the hope she needs to serve these children through the congregation’s willingness to show love to her, to her students and to their families.

Through her church, Bethany Presbyterian, Mandy Manning reaches out to help others beyond her classroom. The congregation sponsors a food drive to help feed local refugee families.

Recently, a former student from Uganda became homeless. After bouncing around various apartments in Spokane, the family of 10 finally found a home to live in. But suddenly, they were evicted without warning. Working with fellow educators, Manning secured a home for the family to store their belongings in.

With a short window to get everything moved, though, the family needed more help than the teachers could provide. So Manning called her church family at Bethany, and they jumped into action.

Longtime members Kris and Frank Cejka donated time — and a truck — to help move the family in a single day.

Bethany Presbyterian not only helps when emergencies arise — the congregation also sponsors a refugee food drive, so that families Manning serves do not go hungry. The congregation also purchases blankets for the immigrant and refugee families, and Manning hands out the blankets in her classroom.

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Despite being named National Teacher of the Year, Manning did not plan to be a teacher when she graduated from college. In fact, she says, “it just sort of happened.”

After graduating with a degree in film-making, she was a para-educator for a year. Then she went into the Peace Corps, which she says influences how she is in the classroom. By having experiences outside of her comfort zone, she has learned to adapt to new environments by being open to different ways of thinking, being and doing.

“Teaching people is my true calling,” Manning said. “And the more we can connect our immigrant and refugee students to the community, the happier we are.”

Paul Seebeck is a communications strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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