Through Philanthropy, the Beard Excellence in Teaching Awards Support Mentorship

Jan 21, 2020

January is National Mentoring Month, which raises awareness for the vital role of mentors in helping young people and emerging professionals thrive and achieve success. Philanthropists can play an important part to foster quality mentorship in their communities.

Do you remember a teacher or mentor who made a difference in your life? Chances are, you can think of someone who made a lasting impression – for seeing potential in you when others didn’t, for challenging you to grow, or for lighting a fire in you to explore new interests and be bold in your work.

A good teacher serves as a mentor to every student. And encouraging teachers to excel at their work and help colleagues to grow alongside them is vitally important: national research shows that youth with mentors are 55% more likely to enroll in college, and twice as likely to hold a leadership position in a club or sports team.

How an Endowed Fund Improves Public Education in Bridgeport

With the knowledge that students need this type of mentorship to succeed, the Theodore H. and Margaret S. Beard Excellence in Teaching Award Fund, an endowed fund managed by Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, aims to support and recognize outstanding teachers within Bridgeport public schools. By rewarding teachers who inspire students to excel, the fund works toward an overall vision of improving the quality of public education in Bridgeport.

Both Theodore and Margaret Beard, who made a home in Bridgeport after their marriage 1929, believed the first priority for any child brought into this world was to receive a first-class education. For them it was clear: the most important job performed in our society was the job of the teacher.

So, in 2002, after Margaret set aside a part of her estate to give back to the community, her children used the assets to establish a charitable fund modeled after the MacArthur Foundation “genius gifts,” which would recognize teachers whose light shone brightly in the Bridgeport school system.

The Beard family celebrates the 2019 Theodore and Margaret Beard Excellence in Teaching Awardees – Laurinda Rua (front, left) and Ashley Lupo (front, right) – at The Inspiration Awards in Bridgeport.

Today, the Beard Excellence in Teaching Award is one of the largest and most prestigious teaching awards in the country. Every year, the fund provides up to two $20,000 unrestricted cash awards, presented at an annual Inspiration Awards ceremony which honors exceptional Bridgeport teachers. Payable over three years, the Beard Awards offer skilled teachers an incentive to remain in the district.

“Bridgeport has a need for the best teachers it can get,” says John Beard, who helped to establish the Beard Excellence in Teaching Fund in his parents’ names. “My parents felt education was one of the most important careers, so we want to give great teaching to Bridgeport students.”

Making an Exponential Impact for Students’ Future Success

The Beard Awards follow a rigorous application process facilitated through a partnership with the Bridgeport Public Education Fund (BPEF), which staffs a selection committee to review candidates. Teachers are first nominated by a district principals or assistant principals. through a letter of support that demonstrates how the nominee uses creative and effective strategies to motivate students to excel. Letters of support are also accepted from students, parents and colleagues, with special consideration given to how nominees involve students’ families in learning and serve as mentors to fellow teachers.

The selection committee then interviews each candidate, looking for educators with a passion for teaching. They also observe nominated teachers in action, to see in real time how educators spark enthusiasm for learning in their students.

That enthusiasm can be a powerful factor in shaping the futures for these students. And Beard Award winners don’t just inspire students in their own classrooms – they make an exponential impact for quality education by partnering with prior award recipients to share best practices that can help the district meet goals for student achievement. Honorees also participate in new teacher orientations, work with professional learning communities and serve on the Superintendent’s Roundtable to counsel on issues that affect teachers.

For the Beard family, making an investment to support public school teachers in providing an accessible, top-quality education is priceless.

“A good education is the most precious thing a child can be given,” says John Beard.

Look for tickets to go on sale soon for the 2020 Inspiration Awards, to be held on Wednesday, May 6th from 3:30 to 5:30 pm at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn. To learn how you can partner with FCCF to support mentorship and education in your neighborhood, contact us to start a conversation.