Boynton resident and 12th grade teacher Dorothy Schroader was invited to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach on May 15 to nervously wait and see if she was this year’s William T. Dwyer Award winner.
Schroader had been working on winning the Dwyer award for the past six years and on that Wednesday night, her goal was met. The award recognizes teachers’ achievements in Palm Beach County and can only be won once in a lifetime.
Schroader began her career in 1996 as an English teacher at Lake Worth Middle School, where she worked for nine years. She was later offered a teaching position at a new high school, Park Vista.
“I wanted to try something different, completely different actually,” said Schroader.
Schroader worked at Park Vista for five years but soon realized that her passion was with kids who came from rougher backgrounds. In 2009, she decided to take a job offer at Santaluces High school.
Seventy three percent of the school’s 2,359 students are labeled as economically disadvantaged, according to a Palm Beach County School District profile done in the 2016-17 school year.
“I feel like I have a lot of energy and I came from a background of abuse and poverty so I could relate to them better,” said Schroader.
In an effort to make a difference, Schroader encouraged her students to take on different causes throughout Boynton Beach and Lantana. In 2014, Schroader began a club called “Be The Change.” Students in the club would go to Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach and help children who were kept there for an extended amount of time. Schroader said students would bring crayons and coloring books to play with the children while giving their parents a break.
In 2017, one of Schroader’s students attempted suicide due to stress and anxiety. Because of this, Schroader began to brainstorm ideas to help students who felt the same as that student had.
During finals week in December 2017, Schroader planned a guided meditation for students during their lunch period. More than 100 students participated. Afterward, students would receive pamphlets that provided them with self-care tips, coping mechanisms for anxiety and hotline numbers for professional help, said Schroader.
“She can spot a damaged soul from a mile away,” said Rifo Ramadan, a former student. “Essentially she taught me how to heal myself through meditation.”
Schroader related to the tough situations of her students and managed to capture their attention by keeping authenticity and consistency. Schroader explained that most of her students never had someone who had been consistent in their lives; in order to gain their respect, she had to show them she was there for them.
“I’ve had perfect attendance the last four months because I want to show them that they’re important,” said Schroader. “These kids need to know that I’m not going anywhere.”
Throughout her 10 years, Schroader has taught a variety of subjects at Santaluces including regular and honors English, speech, debate and drama.
“I think that’s what helps me stay motivated, that it’s never the same,” said Schroader. “I’ve never been stuck in one subject area.”
“For others, it may seem like she was working hard for this award but caring for her students just comes so naturally for her,” said Alex Clifton, a colleague of Schroader’s.
When asked what’s next for her, she paused but said she will continue to mentor incoming teachers and student teachers with the confidence she felt she had been lacking.
“For most teachers, you’ll begin to question if you’re doing enough,” Schroader said the day after the award was presented. “Last night was validation that I am more than enough.”