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Jon Mark Beilue: Declaration Day

May 6, 2019

Declaration Day

WT future educators get their day to celebrate

By Jon Mark Beilue


There were six of them, most of them coming with family members. There were two cakes, punch and a few balloons. Then, there was the signature moment, if you will, the signing of the letter of intent as each took a dipped pen to paper.

It’s a ceremony that plays out across the country, including the Texas Panhandle. But it’s nearly always tied to sports, high school athletes, who sign a letter of intent to play at a university.

This one was not. It was called Declaration Day on April 22 in the Frank Phillips College library in Borger. It was six students who graduated from Frank Phillips College the first weekend in May, all of them heading to West Texas A&M University. They are educators, six who have chosen to study in the College of Education with designs on being teachers.

“We’re just trying to say, we should recognize future teachers or anyone who goes into human services as much as athletes,” said Dr. Frank Goode, special education program director at WT. “Ideally, everyone should have something like this and be recognized in some way.

“So if you’re going into education, nursing, fields like that, you ought to declare that and celebrate that.”

declaration day

Six Frank Phillips College graduates, all headed to WT as future educators, were recognized April 22 as part of Declaration Day, an idea from Dr. Frank Goode, special education program director at WT.

Goode unintentionally pecked at one of my pet peeves. Once upon a time, I spent 25 years in the sports department of the Amarillo Globe-News, 17 years as sports editor. Signing ceremonies for athletes went from an occasional few on certain times of the year into a virtual cottage industry that never seemed to stop.

Parents weren’t going to be outdone when their child got a few hundred dollars to play golf at an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) college, and so they would organize a ceremony with all the bells and whistles in the high school foyer.

The media was notified, and traipsed to the latest with cameras and recorders and notepads for the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, and the front page of the sports section. Honestly, the coverage way too often was greater than the reason for the event.

Meanwhile, the students who earned academic scholarships worth thousands to a prestigious university got a few backslaps and a “way-to-go” that were known only to their family and friends.

This is not necessarily taking a shot at the ubiquitous athletic signing ceremonies, but only pointing they are way off-kilter compared to other equally, if not more, impressive accomplishments that go largely unnoticed.

Goode too is not critical of the athletic events but only wanted to bring attention to these future educators heading to WT. And while saying the teaching profession is under siege may be extreme, there’s no doubt it’s as challenging as it ever has been and there’s a shortage because of that.

That’s particularly true of special education teachers where the demand exceeds the supply. One of the six students recognized is going into special education.

“Annually, it’s a high needs area,” said Goode, who has taught a number of special education preparation courses. “It’s similar to high school math and science teachers, especially in rural school districts where you have kids who graduate and get a few years of experience and then go to the metro areas. So retention is a big issue too.”

Mark Diaz

Mark Diaz, who graduated from FPC with an associate degree four weeks before graduating from Borger High School, signs his letter of intent.

Goode travels to FPC once a year for a guest lecture and to do a little recruiting for WT. He had previously got the idea of a Declaration Day after attending a conference in Oakland, Calif., in the fall. 

He discussed the idea with Cheryl Webster, associate professor of education at FPC. She ran with it on her end.

“We had seen these Comedy Central videos where educators are treated like professional athletes,” Webster said. “They’re cute videos that make a big hoopla of trading for teachers, drafting them and making millions of dollars.”

There was no satire or spoof about the Declaration Day, but a worthy honor of recognizing some FPC graduates who are heading to WT to become teachers. One of them is Mark Diaz, who wants to teach math and science in the fourth through eighth grade curriculum.

 Because of a unique program between Borger High School and FPC where students can earn college credit there while in high school, Diaz will actually graduate with an associate degree from FPC four weeks before he graduates from Borger High School.

“A lot of my peers always question me if I really want to go into education because of the pay wage,” Diaz said. “I tell them it’s not about pay to me. The most important thing to me is the kids because they’re going to be our future. They are the ones changing the world, and it starts in the classroom.

“I want to be able to inspire kids and make a difference in a child’s life.”

That’s what happened with Diaz, who was forced to repeat third grade. The second time he had Amy Blansett as a teacher, whose encouragement and seeing hope in Diaz not only stayed with him, but impacted him to be a teacher.

Blansett, now superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Borger ISD, was one who was there for the Declaration Day.

“It caught me by surprise when I saw her,” Diaz said. “I was at a loss for words. I felt like all my emotions just flushed out of me. At first, I wanted to cry, but just really thankful that she was there and the impact she made on me.”

Signing ceremonies – they’re not just for athletes.

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.