I had the pleasure of sitting down with eleven-year-old Mason and his mom Elizabeth Clark to talk about how things were going for Mason in his first year at the Donald Heiter Community Center summer program. Needless to say, Mason was very excited to be able to sit down and report how much he loves the center. In addition to the many field trips and how much there is to do, he was very anxious to tell me how different it is from anywhere else he had ever been. When I asked him to explain, he told me it was very hard to explain. That is when his mom reminded him of what he said to her when he came home after the first day. “Oh yes, it felt like home, ” he went on to say, “it is the people who make the difference and that everyone is welcome and everyone is equal.”
His mom added that she was very impressed to see how much the counselors and staff are so involved and interacting with the children in all aspects of the day. They lead by example and show that by empowering the students to make their own decisions regarding what they want to do. Mason was also happy that they had so many art supplies there as he is very interested in the arts. He also wanted me to know that one of the other things that were so very important to him was how he didn’t feel like he needed to impress anyone and that he could just be himself.
When asked about next year, Mason was very quick to say he would go to no other place than the Heiter Center. He is very interested in working toward becoming a junior counselor when he turns 14.
Clearly, Mason is a huge fan of the center and all the staff. He is one of the very most articulate 11-year-old people I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing. My interview with Mason and his mom reiterates again, how impressive and unusual the Donald Heiter Community Center is to members of our community.
Recent Pennsylvania State graduate Michael Sterling credits his time working at the Donald L. Heiter Community Center in Lewisburg for inspiring him to become one of 43 Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation Indiana Teaching Fellows for 2016.
“There they really emphasized a sense of community and everyone being equal,” he said. One of the reasons why he applied for the fellowship in the first place was because it also emphasizes the importance of community.
According to Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation director of media relations and strategy Patrick Riccard, the program prepares individuals with backgrounds in science to teach in high-needs schools across the country.
Riccard explained the fellows will have “three years of mentorship and support” from established teachers in high-needs schools. The hope is the established teachers will pass down their knowledge and skills to the fellows so “they can succeed from day one.”
This sense of community inspired Sterling, of Mifflinburg, to become a teacher in the first place. While in high school, he really enjoyed learning with his physics teacher but thought he was too “introverted” to become a teacher.
“I thought I wouldn’t talk well in front of the students,” Sterling said.
However, he changed his mind once he started to work part-time with the kids at the Donald L. Heiter Community Center, which provides the Lewisburg community with activities and programs for all ages, during his summer vacations and break year in college.
“They didn’t judge anyone on preconceived notions,” Sterling said. “It gave me a real world experience and taught me how my actions affect my students.”
As he helped students with their homework and played with them, he grew more confident that “with a little bit of practice” he could become a good educator.
Sterling realized he wanted to share his passion for physics with other students so after graduating earlier this year, he applied for the fellowship.
Riccard said Sterling’s “stellar background in community service” made him an ideal candidate for the fellowship.
He said, “candidates have to demonstrate that they want to be a part of the community long term.”
For Sterling that shouldn’t be a problem because he is excited to teach his students “kindness and community.”