What can happen when you dream

1411_locals_mahs_signby Claudia Drosen

Marquette Alternative High School social studies/special education teacher Amanda Erspamer-Berry is a dreamer. That doesn’t mean she spends countless hours idly sitting by the window with a vacant look on her face. Far from it. Her busy life hardly makes it possible for her to sit at all. Along with her team educator at the school, English and special education teacher Nora Torreano, who shares her ideas, talent and drive, Erspamer-Berry dreams about changing the lives of people in the community, and has set out to do precisely that. Not only has she recently received a $2,500.00 grant to help fund a skill-building visit to the Clear Lake Camp for MAHS’s female students, she also was notified by officials from Farmers Insurance she was chosen as a finalist for an even bigger honor — the “Thank a Million Teachers” Dream Big Challenge, a competition for five $100,000.00 grants. She and Torreano assembled a proposal for a fitness center to apply for the grant, with the goal of inspiring students in the district to lead healthier lives.
1411_locals_farmers_logoRandy Rice, Farmers Insurance national manager for education programs, is proud of Erspamer-Berry’s efforts. At Farmers, educating youth is important, and it has taken that commitment to the next level by starting its own education foundation.
It felt the first initiative should be to thank teachers, who it believes all too often go unrecognized for their dedication and hard work. That’s what “Thank a Million Teachers” is all about. We’ve all had a special teacher who went that extra mile, changed our world view, helped us believe in ourselves. It’s time to shed light on these wonderful people, and reward them financially. Rice says, “Amanda is the only teacher from the entire state of Michigan who was selected for this competition.”
A U.P. native, Erspamer-Berry works at the YMCA, as well as teaching. She says her parents taught her the value of a healthy environment and an active lifestyle. Her husband is a personal trainer, and they are the proud parents of a healthy daughter. Erspamer-Berry knows how important it is to feel physically vibrant, and she realizes the state of the body can have a profound effect on one’s emotional outlook on the world. She very much wants to bring this notion to her students.
In the front of her classroom, an inspiring quotation she has cherished for years is prominently displayed. Her students see it each time they attend her classes. The words are Mahatma Gandhi’s: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” She feels strongly it is her responsibility to act as a catalyst for change, and takes pride in being a person who makes things happen. Her incentive for dreaming big? Her school, and beyond.
1411_locals_mahs_studentsMAHS is home to about 130 students, many of whom come from challenging life and family situations. Of course, education is important, but Erspamer-Berry also wants to teach her students about all aspects of getting along in this world. She says, “We have observed a need for strengthening self-esteem, self-image, overall physical health, social-emotional health and personal connections and respect for others.”
MAHS Principal Andrew Crunkleton is one of Erspamer-Berry and Torreano’s cheerleaders, and adds being part of the Dream Big Challenge “allows our students to really take part in and be part of something bigger than themselves, and to be recognized on a huge stage for the hard work they put into school.”
Many MAHS students have lost family members, been pregnant, bullied, homeless or have battled anxiety, depression or substance abuse. Because of these and other factors, they’ve had a hard time working in a traditional high school setting. Erspamer-Berry feels the main goal of this project is “to steer students toward healthy life choices and community resources.”
The focus of this proposal is on three main areas:
• physical activity
• health and fitness education
• community-building.
1411_locals_mahs_artThe “Health & Fitness for Life” proposal deals with overall wellness, and enhances awareness that healthy students learn more. If granted these funds, MAHS will create a fitness facility which will afford year-round activity for students and the whole community, start an art program, provide vending machines filled with healthy food choices by the Marquette Food Co-op, host nutrition classes, issue CPR certification and Red Cross certification for students and offer participation in Challenge Day’s “Be the Change” national service project.
As you would imagine, there are many expenses involved in bringing these  improvements to Marquette Alternative High School. Some of those included in the $100,000.00 proposal for funding are: Red Cross training to instructors in the school, babysitting training, CPR and First Aid training, equipment and supplies for the fitness room including commercial treadmills, ellipticals, VR Pro Bikes, flooring, weight sets, exercise balls, wall mirrors, floor fans, lights, paint and so much more.
For the physical education class, resources like refillable water bottles, shoes, mountain bikes and helmets, are needed. Nutrition costs would be for Food Co-op classes and products mentioned above, vegetable tower gardens and more.
Another proposed constructive expenditure can be made through Challenge Day’s “Be the Change” national service project. Since 1987, this organization has served more than one million young people in 400 cities, forty-seven U.S. states, and five Canadian provinces. The idea is to “end separation, isolation and loneliness, which they believe are at the root of most every destructive behavior.”
“Be the Change” wants us to imagine living in a world where everyone makes a commitment to do three things: love and accept ourselves while continuing to grow, see others through eyes of acceptance, love and compassion and live life in service. Erspamer-Berry has proposed this beneficial group bring some of its members to the U.P. and spread its message to the students at MAHS through its educational program.
These dreams can become reality for MAHS students and our community, but not without your help. To imagine a world where every child feels safe and loved, where bullying and violence are things of the past, it is up to individuals to cast votes for Erspamer-Berry’s proposal, or other finalists in the “Thank a Million Teachers” Dream Big Challenge.
Please do so if you haven’t already, within the designated time frame of October 1 through November 30.
This can be done by going online to www.thankamillionteachers.com to cast your vote once in each twenty-four-hour period, clicking on “Vote for a proposal” in the upper right corner, then going to the next page and clicking on “Vote for a $100,000.00 proposal” You can see names and photos of the competitors there. Click accordingly. Be sure to check your email for confirmation.
Stay tuned. Be part of the process. Be part of the dream. Oh, and thanks a hundred thousand, Amanda.

— Claudia Drosen

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