So I’m in my classroom today, teaching, when I see something that stops me cold.
The door opens and in comes former Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch.
My mouth falls open. I don’t know what I was talking about. Vocabulary words or something.
The class of 8th graders falls silent, too. All eyes are on the two of us.
Batch looks me right in face with a big smile.
“Here you go,” he says and hands me a shopping bag full to bursting with school supplies and an extra-large tub of hand sanitizer.
By this time I’m probably blushing and grinning like my teeth are about to escape my face.
I hope I was able to mouth a “Thank you,” before he left, but I’m not really sure.
It all kind of happened in a daze.
He came. He gave me supplies. He left.
I guess I shouldn’t have been so taken by surprise.
Batch is a frequent face in my district. After all, he graduated from here, himself, before moving on to college and professional sports.
At the beginning of every year, Batch brings school supplies to every teacher in every building in the district. This was just the first time I was actually in the classroom when he dropped them off. Usually he sneaks in when I’m at lunch duty or in the computer lab. I find them in a neat pile on my desk with a note of thanks – to me!
It’s almost like he doesn’t want to draw attention to it. Almost like he doesn’t want to make us feel like we need to thank him.
It’s his quiet way of giving back to the community that made him.
In some ways it’s the most natural thing in the world. In others it’s truly amazing.
Lots of celebrities make charitable contributions to their communities. Many even put that money into their hometown. But how many invest in the public school system?
Most only seem to have eyes for charter schools. You know – those often cut rate, fly-by-night institutions that are privately managed and publicly funded. Schools that pop up in store fronts or in the mall with a celebrity name on the door and little else.
Rapper Pitbull has opened three of these dubious institutions. Pro-Football Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders opened two – and closed them both last year. Tennis star Andre Agassi has founded a few and co-founded an organization that rents out properties to other charter schools at a profit. Former NBA players Jalen Rose and Kevin Johnson opened some, too, though Johnson is being investigated for misusing federal funds at his institutions. He likes the industry so much, he even married one of its chief advocates, former D.C. Schools chief Michelle Rhee.
But Charlie Batch? He hasn’t opened a single charter school.
There is no shiny building with his name on it. He hasn’t hired a corporate management team to increase his brand. He isn’t bragging in the newspaper about how he’s “Mr. Education” as Pitbull tried to rename himself.
No. He gives his money to the same public school from which he graduated. And then some!
He did start a charity called the Best of the Batch Foundation, which engages in several initiatives to help underprivileged children in the Pittsburgh region. The organization gives out free backpacks – or Batch Packs – to children in need. More than 7,500 have been distributed to date. About two thirds of my students have them. I can’t imagine what they’d do without them.
Batch also participates in Read Across America Day every March 2. The two-time Superbowl champ visits several western Pennsylvania schools to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday while reading to children his favorite works by the author.
The project is sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA). That’s right. The largest teachers union in the nation. Batch isn’t throwing stones at teachers. He’s out there on the front lines helping us reach children.
In addition, every year Batch partners with the local Rotary Club to help promote literacy. He goes into the schools to read to third graders and give each one a free dictionary. Children also receive lessons how to use them and become word conscious. For some students, this is the only dictionary in their house, and it becomes a tool for all their brothers and sisters up through high school.
Batch also works with local business partners to provide 13 college scholarships to help defer the cost of higher education for needy children. Scholarships range from $1,000 to $8,000 per recipient.
Batch also knows the importance of pre-school. He works with local businesses to provide pre-kindergarten scholarships through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.
And those bundles of school supplies that he hands out every year – each one contains more than $250 worth of pencils, paper, tissues, etc.
That’s not just a donation. It’s a pencil in the hand of a student who doesn’t have one. It’s notebook paper for a child whose parents are working three jobs just to make ends meet. It’s tissues and hand sanitizer so kids won’t get sick and miss class.
I can’t tell you how much it means to my students and me that Batch is there for us.
He knows what challenges we face because he’s there with us. He isn’t criticizing. He’s taking action.
If only more celebrities would value deeds more than words. If only more people would put themselves out there for our public schools.
If only more people were like Charlie Batch.
NOTE: Charlie Batch also donates school supplies to teachers at our local Propel Charter School. It’s a fact noted nowhere on the Batch Foundation Website. In fact, nowhere does he boast of all the schools he visits. In an age of philanthrocapitalists more concerned about controlling the fields where they donate, Batch is an anomaly. He is apolitical and pro-child.