Eighth grade English teacher John Stewart is known at Gunston Middle School for his wacky poetry assignments and dressing in costume, but during a recent class, the ebullient educator topped even himself by teaching class while on an active volcano.
It was the prize for winning Wonder Bread’s 7 Wonders of the USA Teacher Tour, a national contest that awarded seven inspirational teachers a trip to the seven wonders of the nation.
During his four-day trip, he and Wonder Bread staff set up a camera on Mount Kilauea, Hawaii’s most active volcano, so he could teach his class via satellite. Stewart was able to talk to students at the Arlington school live and hear them read their poems about volcanoes.
“An event like this really puts Gunston on the map in terms of recognizing the talent,” said Jamaal Tibbs, assistant principal at Gunston Middle School. He added that the school is looking to forge more partnerships with the business community beyond its annual career fair.
Wonder Bread started the Wonder Heroes award last year to celebrate its 90th anniversary. The heroes campaign recognizes mothers, fathers and service members with inspiring stories. Last September, it began accepting submissions for heroic teachers.
The company flew other winning teachers to sites such as Mount Rushmore, the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, the Kennedy Space Center, the National Mall, the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.
Wonder Bread also gave 25 tablet computers to the schools of the winning teachers and donated $5,000 to Teach for America, representing $1 for each submission it received.
“Wonder believes it is important to support and celebrate individuals and organizations making a difference in the lives around them which is why many of our programs involve philanthropy that has an impact at the local level,” Wonder Bread Brand Manager Tameika Miller wrote in an e-mail.
Twinkiemaker Hostess Brands, which owns Wonder Bread, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, but officials said they do not plan to reduce corporate philanthropy anytime soon.
“We’re still trying to do all the things we’ve done in the past,” said Erik Halvorson, Hostess spokesman. “Obviously we’re not expanding at this time. We have no immediate plan to cut back.”
Halvorson said the Wonder Heroes campaign was budgeted prior to the bankruptcy filing.
“That was a program that we committed to and we wanted to follow through,” he said.