'KIND' Derry Area teacher receives award for program that provides necessities for kids
All teachers know their students, no matter how intelligent or enthusiastic, cannot thrive if their stomachs are empty, if they don't have tennis shoes for gym class, or if they lack a lab or field-trip fee.
The best educators come up with creative ways to help meet those needs.
Derry Area High School learning support teacher David McCleary recently was recognized as one of the best, receiving the American Red Cross of Southwestern Pennsylvania's Educator Hero Award.
McCleary helped to start the KIND (Kids In Need in Derry) program. In addition to subsidizing year-round closets with clothes and school supplies, program participants raise funds for specific needs students may have.
A New Alexandria resident and graduate of Greater Latrobe High School, McCleary, 49, almost didn't become a teacher.
Originally a criminology major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he took a semester off and held odd jobs, including as a house painter and a church custodian.
He had volunteered with Special Olympics while in high school, and an acquaintance suggested he might enjoy a career in special education.
“It was a good decision. I don't usually say I go to work. I go to school,” McCleary said.
He's spent 26 years at Derry, all at the high school level.
“You see them come in as ninth-grade kids and leave as 18-year-old adults. You get to see them progress,” he said of the students.
During a faculty meeting several years ago, building principal Kathy Perry mentioned that several seniors could not afford to pay their commencement cap and gown fees.
“You could see people reaching into their pockets,” McCleary said.
Realization that a need of that level existed in the district was eye-opening, he said.
“It's a free and public education, but a lot of things come up that cost for students,” McCleary said.
The Derry Area School District Foundation took KIND under its wing, he said, granting the program nonprofit status.
Student needs met through fundraising are as wide-ranging as work boots for a vocational technical class to gym shoes or a musical instrument.
“We are a small enough school that we are pretty cognizant of who is in need,” McCleary said.
KIND closets are in the high school and middle school.
“We are working on one at Grandview Elementary,” he said.
What started out with a collection of coats has blossomed.
“We realized that if students don't have coats, they might not have boots or gloves or scarves,” McCleary said.
“People give their time, energy, talent — secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers all pitch in with sorting and delivery,” he said.
Area residents drop off clothing or monetary donations.
With McCleary's help, the district arranges fundraisers to buy Christmas boxes for needy area families.
“Lots of kids get two of three daily meals here,” he said.
Students clamor to volunteer at the Derry Area Food Bank, where he takes a group each month.
“We've had kids say, ‘I had no idea,' or ‘I've been on the other side of the table; I know what it's like,' ” McCleary said.
Perry said she immediately thought of McCleary for the educator category of the Red Cross Heroes program.
In her nominating letter, she cited his spearheading of KIND, his role as high school coordinator of student community service and his “Voice of Derry” emceeing skills at numerous district events.
“He has been an inspiration to our students, staff and local community that has gone unnoticed for years. He is a great staff member (who) puts the kids first,” Perry wrote.
McCleary, whom Perry also described as “humble,” brushed off any “hero” status.
“It's dozens and dozens of people,” he said.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- New Stanton to craft comprehensive plan to prove borough ‘more than’ turnpike exit
- North Huntingdon man pleads guilty in road rage case
- Victims sue North Fayette bar, gunman, mother in fatal shooting
- Police look for Derry driver who crashed into house