There are times in a teaching career when you wonder, “Was it all worth it? Would I do it again?” My answer has always been a resounding “yes” to those questions, but I don’t think there is a teacher alive who hasn’t wondered about those things on occasion. All teachers inevitably have bad days, and it can leave you feeling, “What am I doing? I must be the world’s worst teacher.”
One of the mysteries of teaching is that you can have one of these awful days from nowhere. With experience, you learn that these things can happen randomly for no apparent reason. Many times, it has nothing to do with you but difficult situations that are going on in your students’ lives that you are unaware of. Sometimes you discover why things went amiss, but many times you don’t. Just as often, the following day, everything goes according to plan, and you feel like the consummate professional. Such are the ups and downs of being an educator.
I’ve written previously about some of my favorite post-teaching moments. One post was entitled The Delayed Rewards of Teaching https://petespringerauthor.wordpress.com/2019/08/15/the-delayed-rewards-of-teaching/ and, most recently, an article called Our Future is in Good Hands. https://petespringerauthor.wordpress.com/2020/07/09/our-future-is-in-good-hands/
This past week I had one of those beautiful post-teaching experiences that reminded me why I became an educator. When you’re in the middle of a school year, you have these memorable experiences when you see a child accomplish something remarkable or observe a fantastic transformation in a child’s academics or behavior. While these accomplishments are rewarding, the big payoff often comes years later.
I taught Samy Awwad in third grade several years ago. He was a bright and sometimes mischievous (never mean) boy with a great deal of potential. I had the pleasure of teaching Samy’s brother the year before him, and his younger sister two years after I taught Samy. They all were exceptionally bright students with promising futures. Unsurprisingly, their parents set an excellent example by being educated, kind people, who put tremendous value on education.
Just because a student is intelligent is no guarantee of future success. I saw bright students get sidetracked for various reasons as they became young adults. The most common reasons were dysfunction in the family, childhood trauma, lack of motivation, hanging out with the wrong peers, or substance abuse problems.
Then there are students like Samy Awwad, who not only do well in school but take their natural ability and run with it. Imagine being a sixteen-year-senior, having already received preadmission to Stanford, and starting up a nonprofit organization for young people.
Awwad’s nonprofit is called IMMUNIGLOBAL. http://www.immuniglobal.org/ His primary focus is to bring education and awareness of the importance of vaccinations to the community in fighting preventable diseases such as the measles or flu.
Immuniglobal is not a small undertaking. Awwad built his nonprofit from the ground up, including website design and development, workshops, outreach, and phone education.
He approached the problem of vaccine education logically by first building his website from scratch to provide information regarding immunizations. A couple of the most startling facts on Awwad’s website are that according to the World Health Organization, between two and three million deaths are prevented each year by vaccinations. According to the CDC, a savings of an estimated 42,000 lives occur in the United States per year.
Awwad sees the big picture and comprehends that real change comes at the grassroots level while also understanding the need to work with huge companies. He has partnered with large organizations and institutions such as the CDC, CLOROX, and UCLA.
The level of thought and action that Awwad has taken is inspiring. He recognized the lack of immunizations that were happening in Humboldt County, his place of residence. Humboldt was recently ranked 54th out of 58 counties in California in terms of vaccination rates.
So why do some people choose not to get their children vaccinated? There appear to be several reasons. According to The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics, the four most prevalent anti-vax philosophies are:
- Religious Reasons
- Personal Beliefs or Philosophical Reasons
- Safety Concerns
- Desire for Additional Education
According to a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) survey, the top reasons for not getting a flu vaccine are:
36% feel they are healthy and do not need the shot.
31% do not like needles.
30% do not think it works.
27% worry about the risks.
While 70% believe it is vital to get an annual flu shot, only 46% say they typically get vaccinated.
Perhaps what is most troubling is that diseases that were once mainly under control are becoming more prevalent again. Measles cases are on the rise. The majority of people who get measles are unvaccinated.
Beyond the probable life-saving gains, vaccines have an economic benefit and cut medical costs throughout the world. When diseases occur, more hospitalizations are the result. The COVID-19 pandemic has added considerable costs and added higher risk to medical professionals.
Awwad realizes that one of the most effective means of communication is to take his knowledge to the community directly. He has made several presentations in K-12 classrooms in Humboldt County. (Most of these have been at the high school level.) His approach helps young people become more educated about vaccines and encourages them to become involved in vaccine education and other current critical issues.
One of the most important local programs that Awwad became involved with was a vigorous vaccine education program at McKinleyville High School. He organized an Adolescent Immunization Poster Contest with the Humboldt County Department of Public Health and some local pediatricians.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, the importance of developing a vaccine has come to the forefront. Worldwide deaths have now reached over 600,000 people with several times more than that becoming ill. Even those who make a full recovery from the Coronavirus may have long-term health effects.
Awwad looks at the present and the future to see how he can use his talents and energy. Once a COVID-19 vaccine is released to the public, he would like to present a series of vaccine-related workshops and activities in schools and other places around Humboldt County.
As far as what comes next for Samy Awwad, the possibilities are endless. He is one of thirty undergraduate fellows selected recently at Stanford’s chapter of an organization called “Effective Altruism.” The goal for this two-month fellowship will be to identify the most pressing issues in the world and then decide how best to implement this resulting knowledge in his career.
Awwad plans to take a gap year to continue his work with ImmuniGlobal before enrolling full-time at Stanford. The most likely path for him will be a future in medicine as a physician. Another possibility is for Awwad to study and conduct research in the field of brain diseases. He is always thinking several steps ahead and has several other irons in the fire unrelated to vaccinations. He hopes to use his voice to help minorities and find ways to tackle important issues such as racism and classism.
I find great inspiration from Samy Awwad’s selfless acts to improve his community and make a difference throughout the world. I can’t wait for the next chapter in his life, and I know that his teachers are all proud of the young man he has become. If ever you doubt America’s youth, perhaps Samy and others like him will help change your mind.