The Ms. Rita and Mr. Jacob Salzman
2009 Outstanding Educator Award

 

Jesse SchmittSince an early age, Jesse Schmitt has had a passion for teaching and working with youth. Jesse teaches fifth grade at Monrovia Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama, where he believes in the power of words and will always find ways to teach lessons on diversity and tolerance. His entire classroom is based on lessons of diversity. He teaches a year-long Holocaust-based lesson and teaches character education daily.

After reading the book Destined to Live, he arranged for the author Ruth Gruener—a “hidden” child in Poland–and her husband Jack—a survivor of 10 concentration camps—to visit his school. “Mr. Schmitt’s students were amazing,” says Mrs. Gruener. “They were the most knowledgeable group of children we ever encountered. One boy wrote a beautiful poem about me and the Holocaust.”

After seeing the movie “Freedom Writers” Jesse wanted more information about the project Erin Gruwell did with her students. Although he is an elementary school teacher and the Freedom Writers project is geared toward high school students, Jesse was convinced the project would be good for his kids. His application convinced the foundation staff that the Freedom Writers concept would work at the elementary level, and Jesse was one of 25 teachers from the U.S. and Canada to attend a workshop in 2007. Freedom Writers has been a great success with his students, parents and staff. Jesse’s students love the program, and their writing skills have soared.

In October 2008, he arranged for his school to gather donations for Hurricane Katrina victims and survivors. He personally delivered supplies to a homeless shelter and to an elementary school in New Orleans. It was a great way to teach his students about giving to those in need.

Anne Frank’s spirit continues to live in Jesse’s classroom and in the lives of his students.