Recently, Peter Rodway wrote in requesting some old copies of American Way. Not an unusual request per se, as we’re happy to oblige readers with extra copies when we have them. What was unusual about Peter’s request was the reason he wanted the magazines: He wanted to use them as textbooks.
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As the editor, this is perhaps the best sort of request I can receive. The twin goals of American Way are to entertain and to educate. As a former teacher, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Peter. He’s going above and beyond his job description in this school, which serves a dis?advantaged segment of New Orleans’ children. In so doing, he’s inspiring his students. Kids home in on their teacher’s enthusiasm. When their teacher is excited about teaching, they become excited about learning. Since I’m both a teacher and a student, I became inspired.
We shipped an assortment of past AW issues to the Batiste Cultural Arts Academy. Three days later, Peter wrote back saying that his students were absolutely devouring the content. And they were hungry for more. He attached a photograph of his students holding up copies of American Way. They were all smiling.
The Batiste Cultural Arts Academy doesn’t have a budget for magazine subscriptions. So Peter showed once again just how dedicated he was to his class: He offered to drive to the New Orleans airport every two weeks — a 40-minute drive for him — and pick up old issues of American Way as they’re pulled off the planes.
Our editorial assistant, Lana Ader, told Peter that we’d be happy to give the school a complimentary subscription. Then she knocked on my door: “Adam, you should go down there.” She was right.
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These 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds asked the kinds of questions you’d expect to hear from college physics students. They asked about vectors and aeronautical trigonometry; they asked questions about the qualifications and education needed to become a pilot; they asked questions about the thrust-to-weight ratio of airplanes. I didn’t field a question about writing or journalism until the second hour. When I did, those questions were equally engaging and intriguing. Learned desire aside, I wish I could convey in words the look of absolute happiness when they heard from someone other than their teacher that they, too, could someday fly airplanes or work in the airport tower and monitor flights, or that they could fly to Curaçao — a place none of them knew existed — and report on a program that uses dolphins as therapy for terminally ill children. I also wish I could convey their wide-eyed, mouth-gaping expressions of anticipation when I told them that they’ll be getting a VIP tour of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport by AA’s New Orleans general manager Stephen Courtois. That’ll happen later this summer. These students go to school year-round, and Peter still has a few more things to teach them before they get up close and personal with a real-life airplane.
As I was flying home the following day and reflecting on my time with Peter’s students, my faith was reaffirmed in the New Orleans charter-school programs and in the dogged commitment of educators who answer the call to teach the children whom many pockets of society have abandoned. I also realized that despite my own formal education and notwithstanding the fact that my days of sitting in a classroom as a teacher and a student are long behind me — despite the water-in-the-face moment I had when I saw that these children have overcome so much at such a young age and managed to maintain a happy disposition — I realized that I still have a lot to learn.
Peter Rodway and the Batiste Cultural Arts Academy middle school in New Orleans: Thank you for teaching me. Job well done.