A Public Investment in An Average Kid

I consider myself a lucky person.

I tend to win stuff: a trip to an exotic island, an ocean cruise, a skype dinner with Anderson Cooper (when he had his talk show years ago) and even an opportunity to meet a sitting President, but with the celebration of Public Schools Week, I consider myself lucky to have had the public education I received growing up in my hometown in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Was it really luck, though? I attended public schools my entire life—Houston Elementary School, then Colerain Jr. High and graduated from Colerain High School (during the “big hair” 80’s)—without any particularly outstanding academic achievements, volunteer service hours or notable athletic talent that so many high school seniors are required to have these days. I was what most would consider an average kid and an average student.

What was it, then, that made my public education experience enough for me to succeed in life?

It was the promise that my public education was an investment in the future of society and in me. The promise that every child has value and worth and should be given the right to learn regardless of gender, ethnicity, color, religion or socio-economic status. I had an education that fostered my love of art, AND I had teachers whose influence and encouragement would lead me to my career in graphic design and my vocation as a public-school advocate.

In junior high, my French teacher Mrs. Wyatt, sponsored a poster contest for International Week. I entered and, to my surprise, I won! My prize was a beautiful hardcover copy of The Little Prince, lovingly inscribed (in French) by Mrs. Wyatt. I still own it today. Was this the start of my lucky streak? Perhaps. I do know what winning that contest did: it planted a seed that made me think that my love of art could lead to more prizes and, as a tween, that was a great motivator. Merci, Mrs. Wyatt, for planting that seed for future growth.

I also remember my high school art teacher, Mrs. Hilliard, making me pick my drawing out of the garbage when, out of frustration, I’d ripped it off my drawing board and tossed it in the trash. Her faith that I’d started something worth finishing exemplifies just one of the many ways a public-school teacher can positively impact a child. That drawing went on to win a Scholastic art award and I’ll never forget Mrs. Hilliard and her ability to see in me something I couldn’t yet see in myself.

My love of art led me to college after high school and eventually a career in graphic design. My community had made the investment in my public-school education which, as an adult, led me down a path to advocate for the very thing I was afforded so many years ago as a child: an opportunity to succeed through a high-quality, public education.

I live in Michigan now and have given back through thousands of volunteer hours in PTA, advocating for Michigan kids in public education as the Michigan PTA Federal Legislative Chair and in my own children’s school district through public service as an elected school board Trustee. I never forget that all of this is possible because of what society invested in me: the average student, with average grades but with a talent and love for art.

That’s why I’m #PublicSchoolProud. How about you? Read more about Public Schools Week and ways you can support our nation’s public schools.


Barb Anness is the federal legislative chair for Michigan PTA.