I originally sent a version of this letter to President Obama on June 25, 2013. I have not yet heard a response but thought about it again today as I watched the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate their Stanley Cup championship with him. This version has been updated foAs always, your feedback is welcome.
Dear Mr. President:
My name is Chris Thomas and I am the General Manager of WLTL Radio at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, Illinois. WLTL is a 180 watt non-commercial educational FM station that reaches more than 100,000 residents in the 11 communities our school serves. But more importantly, WLTL is home to more than 100 dedicated students, including 16 student managers, who keep our station operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Recently at the 2012 John Drury High School Radio Awards, hosted by North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, WLTL was named “Best High School Radio Station in the Nation.” This is the fifth time in the ten year history of the awards WLTL and our students have been named top station in the nation (previously winning in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2009). In addition to these amazing honors, WLTL students have also won more than 100 national awards of excellence or higher for their work at WLTL (awards from both high school, college and even professional competitions).
I am immensely proud of my students for their achievements but at the same time I am saddened that their incredible feats are continuously overshadowed by stories like these:
My intention in writing this letter is not to take away any credit from of our athletic teams at Lyons Township. Winning a state championship is an amazing accomplishment and they deserve all of the publicity and attention they receive for winning these honors. But when athletics get all of this attention, it makes me wonder, what about some well-deserved attention for academic endeavors?
WLTL and our students are well-supported by all of our administration, student body and community. WLTL has been broadcasting at 88.1 FM in our community for 45 years and we just recently finished our annual fundraising effort where we were able to raise just more than $30,000 from community members and local businesses. It is not a lack of love and support that has driven me to write this letter – it is a lack of celebrating student achievement, not just in our schools, but in our country.
Yes schools hold honors assemblies and yes many times student’s names and recognitions are printed in local newspapers in the community news section, but let’s be honest, academics are not considered headline grabbing. There were no cover photos when WLTL wins top honors nor will there be a banner raised for our best in the nation achievement, but both of these things will happen when a sports team wins a state trophy.
So why write you? Why does this concern you and The White House? Well Mr. President, with all due respect, The White House I believe can be a very powerful influence in helping academic competitions and championships gain more respect, and here is why:
This is you and my beloved Chicago Blackhawks at The White House celebrating their 2010 Stanley Cup Championship. This is one of my favorite photos of all time and I enjoyed seeing it again today as you honored the 2013 Blackhawks. But it also makes me wonder, would America put more emphasis on celebrating educational achievements if The White House put more emphasis on celebrating educational achievements?
I know education is important to you Mr. President. And I know that you and your administration have done and will continue to recognize academic achievements at The White House, but how cool would it be that when a group of students won a national academic based championship (and either the high school or college level) it would be expected that The White House would welcome them for a ceremony? Right now it is the norm that the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, WNBA and even some NCAA sports champions are honored. Isn’t it a shame that it isn’t the same for academic achievements?
This is not a battle against sports but rather a push for recognition for education. I love sports. Some of my favorite memories are sports related, but sports are not my life. Outside of my family, the most important thing I do with my life is going to work every day at an amazing high school and working with some of the best and brightest students our school has to offer at WLTL, and I would love nothing more than to see my students (and students everywhere) recognized and celebrated by our nation in the same manner our sports team are celebrated and recognized by our nation.
If you could find the time, I would love to see our students honored for their national championship, whether it is at The White House or next time you are in Chicago. And not only would I like to see our students honored, but also the students of this championship honored each year. I know not only would they appreciate it and remember it for a lifetime, but that it also would be quite a powerful message to America about the importance of educational victories as well as sports victories.
Thank you for your time, consideration, and most importantly, your dedication and service to our great country.
Chris Thomas is a full-time teacher, part-time freelance writing, father of three, and most importantly, a very, very tired man.
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