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Inspiring Students Through Community Service - Patty Wyman


What do eight schools in Ecuador and Oprah Winfrey have in common? One very enthusiastic middle school teacher: Patty Wyman.

In 2007, Patty was asked by her principal at Silverado Middle School to start an eighth grade Leadership class as a brand new elective. A passionate environmentalist, Patty and her class set an ambitious goal of saving the Andean Bear Ecological Corridor in Ecuador.

Then, Patty head from her sister about a Canadian charity of children helping children, now known as WE Schools. Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger started the organization when they were kids themselves, and Oprah Winfrey wanted American students to join the ranks, raising money to build schools in developing countries.

Together with her Leadership class, Patty read on the WE Schools website: “One very enthusiastic group in all of North America may have the chance to meet Oprah.” Her students started chanting “Oprah! Oprah!” and so begins the “Legend of Oprah and the Two Schools”.

After an extensive application process, Patty’s Leadership class of 31 students was accepted into the WE Schools fundraising program in October 2007. Through carwashes and selling candy, Patty and her students kept meeting their fundraising goals starting at $250 up to $1,000. In 2008, the cost to build a school in Ecuador was $8,700. At this point, the students set their fundraising goal at $2,000 and began planning what would become an annual fundraising auction at a winery. Every year, Patty’s students use this event as an opportunity to make personal connections with the businesses they know and recruit support for the project.

The first year’s event raised $25,233. “It was a miracle,” said Patty. After this incredible accomplishment, Patty’s students started chanting, “Two schools!” In addition to building two schools in Ecuador, her first Leadership class donated 10% of their funds to local Habitat for Humanity because Patty wanted the project to have both global and local components.

Now the dream of meeting Oprah seemed like a real possibility. However, no one from WE Schools knew what she was talking about and Patty could no longer find the information on their website. Then, Oprah featured a WE Schools class from Chicago on her show. At this point, most people would be disappointed about not meeting Oprah and let it go. Patty Wyman is not most people: she still believed.

“This is how the legend of this Leadership class began and why so many kids feel compelled to become a part of this,” said Patty. “I feel they they’re drawn to me for this positive message that I give them of what they want to happen, they can make happen!”

Patty and her class started writing letters to Oprah and everyone they could think of, but got no response. Finally, on the last Friday of school, Patty heard from then NVUSD Superintendent, John Glaser, that Oprah was in Northern California giving the commencement speech at Stanford. Patty thought, “Dr. Glaser believes!” That day, Patty’s students were dressed up to attend a luncheon with Rotary. Then, Patty got a call from NCOE Superintendent, Barbara Nemko that Oprah was in Napa for the Wine Auction. Patty said, “I knew she’d come.”

At that point, the universe started raining help on Patty and her class. By the end of the day, they were driving up to Meadowood to meet Oprah Winfrey. Because of this magical meet-up, the “Legend of Oprah and the Two Schools” continues to inspire Patty’s Leadership students to hold themselves to a very high standard as community citizens making a difference across the world and here in the Napa Valley.

Now in its tenth year, with every new Leadership class, Patty engages her students to decide as a group what causes they will support with their fundraising efforts through WE Schools. WE Schools is a unique, experiential service-learning program that challenges young people to identify the local and global issues that spark their passion and empowers them with the tools they need to take action. Through carefully structured educational resources and action campaigns, students get involved with issues across the world, down the road, and in their very own schools. At the same time, they gain important life skills like leadership, critical thinking and action planning.

Alexis Hermiston, Senior WE Schools Program Manager in Northern California, reports that Patty’s class consistently is one of the (if not the) highest fundraising groups in the WE Schools program for the Western US. To date, they have raised enough funds to build eight classrooms and have a goal of building two this year. This August, Patty will go to Ecuador for a week to visit the coincidentally named Napo River region to visit the schools her Leadership students have helped build over the last ten years.

During their first in-person meeting at Silverado Middle School, Patty and her students exceeded all of Alexis’ expectations. Alexis said, “When you speak with Patty and her students, they don’t brag about all that they accomplish. They are very focused on spreading awareness, and doing the best they possibly can to make the world a better place and inspire others to take action.”

Jaaziel Satten, also known as Jazzy, is a 13 year old in Patty’s current eighth grade Leadership class. His older brother, Jadyn, motivated him to apply to Patty’s class. During his keynote speech at the annual Celebration of WE in Daly City, Jazzy talked about how he is inspired to participate because he is so grateful for his education and wants less fortunate students to have the same opportunity. The most important lesson Jazzy learned in Patty’s Leadership class is, “If you really put the hard work in, and you believe something’s going to happen, it will happen. You can help your community no matter how old you are, no matter who you are: you can make a difference.”

Next school year will be Patty’s last teaching at Silverado after 28 years. What are her plans during retirement? She’s going to make a movie with Oprah about her first Leadership class called “Two Schools”. Last year Patty got a letter from Brett Obranovich, a student from her first Leadership class and the only “Oprah naysayer.” She said, “It’s the kind of letter you want read as your eulogy.” Brett wrote, “I didn’t get it then, but I really get it now, and I live my life by what I learned in the eighth grade.”

For information on signing up for WE Schools and Families programs, visit WE.org.

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