Essay Contest Helps Instill Character in DHS Students

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“Good people go on to do great things.” That statement is an example of a maxim – a brief expression of a general truth or rule of conduct. That statement is also a quote from Duncanville High School teacher Angela Banks, who uses maxims to support her educational focus. “My primary focus is to equip my students with life-long critical thinking and inferring skills,” she explained. “I want my students to understand that it matters little where you start, as long as you continue to travel in the direction of your proposed purpose in academia and in life.”

An educator of 19 years, Banks volunteered for a position in the DHS Ninth Grade Academy in 2010. She now teaches English to students considered at risk of dropping out of high school. The Academy is separated from the High School, and classes are segregated by gender. Fewer students per class equals increased instructor attention. “Until students believe in the educators’ attempt to reach them, the effort to impart academic learning experiences on the teachers’ part proves fruitless,” said Banks. “The most challenging task I have as an educator is to convince my students to believe in the story that they have the potential to write for themselves. When you are the author, every story can have a happy ending.”

Using a popular movie to illustrate her point, Banks says that students must “Polar Express” in her classroom. In the film, a Christmas bell rings, and only those who believe can hear it while others think it’s broken. With a belief that will open students’ eyes to opportunities as limitless as their dreams, Banks has a passion to help them “become better people who make positive contributions in our world.” That’s why she introduced the CHARACTER COUNTS! Foundations for Life program into her classroom a few years ago. It’s a maxim-based discussion and essay program that improves reasoning and writing skills, while also inspiring students to reflect upon and commit to governing themselves with the truths that they uncover. In addition to daily writing prompts, Banks implemented an essay contest to help motivate students. She even supplies out of pocket prizes. In February, Le’Diamond Burns won a McDonald’s gift card for her essay entitled “Changes”, Justin Ukabiala won a Walmart gift card for “Why is it never crowded along the extra mile?”, and Sabrina Daniels won cash for her essay “Be True to Yourself.”

Named Duncanville ISD’s 2011 Secondary Teacher of the Year, as well as the Region X 2011 Secondary Teacher of the Year, Banks’ ability to impart academic learning experiences is evident. But it’s her dedication to student success and empathy for all children that make her a great teacher. She forms relationships with her students, spurring them on to greatness. Banks says she plans to start offering scholarship money to those who “defy the odds” and graduate from high school. “My profession prompts students to become the best that they can become,” she said. “It is my honor and joy to see this into fruition.”