Lighting the way...

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2007 Conference: Third general session

Peppers thanks school leaders for 'lighting the way'

Mixing poetry, jokes, and real-life experiences from her childhood and her days as a classroom teacher, Debra D. Peppers of St. Louis distributed a lot of praise to those who helped her throughout her life.

She said that teachers, administrators and board members need to understand that some children face obstacles that may be hidden or less obvious than what is going on in the classroom or hallway.

"We are all aware of the ongoing issues – drugs, bullying, teen pregnancies – that kids deal with. But what about the child whose father may be serving in Afghanistan or Iraq? What kind of problems does that create for student achievement?"

Peppers said everyone has a "flip side" of problems, obstacles, and other issues that affect their performance directly or indirectly. It's only through a caring school teacher or school leader who takes time to understand those issues that such students are not left behind or left to fall through the cracks.

Peppers was the keynote speaker at the third general session of the 2007 Joint Annual Conference. Part of her presentation on Sunday, Nov. 18, included her own story. At 16, weighing 250 pounds, she dropped out of high school, experimented with alcohol and drugs, and ran away from home. But with the help of a special teacher and other devoted school leaders, and unconditional love from her parents, Peppers went on to earn a Ph.D., author a book and newspaper columns, host TV and radio programs, and join the lecture circuit.

"I was the prodigal child in every way. I could never be anything like my older sister Donna, who was seen as the perfect child and student," she recalled.

But her life turned around in 1967. After running away, she eventually returned home and to the classroom. Instead of berating her, one of her teachers, "Miss Alma," hugged Peppers and told her 'God's going to do something great with your life, if you let him.' "Boy, she really raised the bar for me that day," Peppers said.

Peppers said it was people like Miss Alma, along with her parents, her school board president, and superintendent who taught and showed her that her life has to be balanced physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally in order to succeed.

"You have to be the catalyst and take the light to show [these children] the way," she said. "Is it worth it for just one child? Absolutely. You may not know or realize who you are affecting or even how; but just as somebody lighted the way for you, you are doing the same for others."

Peppers also suggested that children need to be shown that when they do fail, to keep falling forward, "so they're one step ahead the next time."

Earlier in the program, the state board of education honored Mark C. Metzger of Indian Prairie CUSD 4 board of education, Naperville, with its Thomas Lay Burroughs Award for Outstanding School Board President. And Patricia Culler, director of meetings management for IASB, was honored for helping to coordinate the joint annual conference for the past 44 years.

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