When you pair inviting would-be teachers to “shadow” educators with a potential grant for schools, everyone wins. That’s what Katie Schulz-Ditchen, a special needs preschool teacher at Nicholson Elementary School in Marietta, Ga., discovered when her school participated in the Educator for a Day program in 2011.

Katie, who earned her Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) from Walden’s Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership in 2009, nominated her school for a $5,000 Educator for a Day grant from Walden University. In her winning entry—one of five selected from approximately 250 applications—she proposed to introduce clients of a local battered women’s shelter to the possibility of becoming teachers. She also invited other community members considering careers as educators to shadow teachers at her school.

“I hope they took away what a difference each of us can make in the classroom by being an accepting and welcoming teacher who will encourage a child to work harder, think deeper, and be a little kinder. It’s wonderful to be that kind of teacher,” says Katie.

For Katie, her school’s participation in Educator for a Day was also a way of giving back to places that had changed her life. Several years ago, she had turned to the same shelter for help. At the time, she was struggling to support her four young children while earning a meager salary at a day care center. A counselor at the shelter encouraged her to enroll in Walden’s online program, and Katie has now fulfilled her dream of becoming a special education teacher. Through Educator for a Day, she wanted to open the door to new careers for other women in difficult circumstances.

“It’s very empowering to focus on your own education and make choices for yourself,” says Katie. “Women tend to fall back on doing childcare as a way to make money. It was eye-opening to take that same skill set of caring and nurturing and patience and turn it into a career.”

Three of the women from the shelter have returned to Nicholson Elementary School multiple times since the Educator for a Day event last November, and one is now registered as a substitute teacher. The school, which serves many children from low-income and immigrant families, has also benefited: The grant funded science- and math-related academic enhancements to its gym and playground.

“For our school, $5,000 was a huge amount. We’re not a school that gets a lot of funding from other sources,” says Katie. “It was also a personal achievement and reminded me what a difference Walden made for me.”

Host an Educator for a Day event on Nov. 15, 2012, and nominate your school to receive a $5,000 grant from Walden. The deadline for nominations is Oct. 15, 2012. Complete details and a nomination form are available at www.WaldenU.edu/educatorforaday.

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