When we think of an Education Champion, we think of someone who continually goes above and beyond for the students and families they serve. Brian Sawa, School Counselor at Washington Woods Elementary in Westfield, is that person. At last year’s Education Celebration, Brian was honored as the School on Wheels 2019 Education Champion because of his inspiring commitment to improving the lives of the students and families he works with. Thomas Hakim, principal at Washington Woods Elementary and Brian’s nominator for this award, describes him as being a fixture at Washington Woods Elementary for nearly two decades.

As a school counselor, Brian is the school’s first point of contact whenever a student or family has an essential need, such as housing or shelter, food, clothing, mentorship, or counseling. He also oversees the coordination of school-wide initiatives such as clothing and food drives. Brian helped spearhead the school’s All Pro Dad chapter and quickly involved over 200 male role models in the lives of students, secured multiple new community partners for the school, hosts a literacy enrichment club for students, and helps to organize professional development opportunities for the school staff.

The scope of Brian’s impact goes well beyond the traditional duties of a school counselor. He is dedicated to ensuring that his students thrive as scholars, individuals, and leaders. When asked what drives him, Brian said, “Quite simply, I do what I do because every child deserves to be a valued part of his or her community – whether that’s at home, school, or classroom community – but maybe more importantly, to help children understand that they can add value to their community.”

Washington Woods Elementary emphasizes social emotional learning (SEL) and consistently integrates these practices into their school culture. Five years ago, Washington Woods Elementary began their partnership with FranklinCovey to become a Leader in Me school, a program designed to empower students with the leadership and life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Playing a role in the development and growth of the Leader in Me program continues to be a professional highlight for Brian, as he continually sees new steps being achieved in the process.

Each year, the School on Wheels Education Champion award winner receives $1,000 to use toward a project that benefits the youth they serve. Brian chose to use his award funds as a springboard for Washington Woods’ next steps in their SEL journey. He noted that one of the missions of both the Westfield School District and Washington Woods Elementary specifically is to, “Continue to dig into the brain science and consider how it impacts student learning, their relationships with both others and themselves, and how, as adults, it informs our relationships and instruction with our students.”

With the Education Champion funds, Brian was able to further his own learning in these areas through attending the Butler Educational Neuroscience Symposium. He described the opportunity as a profound experience that shifted paradigms on what is most important for kids, while also giving firm definition to the purpose behind the systems and structures the school is building within their community through their Leader in Me process. In addition, Brian was able to take a course that highlighted mindful practices and their relationship to the brain through an organization that leads the integration of mindfulness into education called Mindful Schools. With the remaining funds, Washington Woods Elementary purchased several activity books, children’s picture books, and mindfulness tools.

Brian described the impact of the funds from the Education Champion award by saying, “With the help of School on Wheels, we’ve been able to pull together necessary resources and tools over a short period of time, rather than cobbling them together over a few years, which put us in a great position as a school to grow another layer of programming on our social emotional learning journey.”

Be sure to tune in to our Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn as we reveal our 2020 Education Champion Friday, June 19. Then join us for our online Education Celebration on Thursday, June 25 as we celebrate all our 2020 award winners and the accomplishments of School on Wheels students! Register here.