Sixth graders finish busy week with emotional ceremony

Photo by Robert Williams
Sixth grade teacher Chuck Wake turned his award acceptance speech into a meaningful talk to his students that showcased the meaning behind the award and how much his actions and caring have been to a special class of students who lost a classmate, endured the pandemic and are about to move on to middle school.

By Robert Williams

Editor

Frazee-Vergas sixth grade teacher Chuck Wake was one of 10 out of a pool of more than 500 candidates to be awarded an inaugural HMH Lighthouse Award. Wake accepted the national award in a meaningful and emotional ceremony at the elementary school in Frazee in front of parents, fellow teachers, past and current students Friday, April 28.

The ceremony included a slideshow of photos, both meaningful and amusing, of Wake with his students. Parents and students alike took the microphone and expressed how much Wake has meant to them and their children. Wake accepted the award from Mike and Shannon Scolley.

Their son Ridge Joseph Scolley was a classmate of the sixth grade class who passed away three years ago. Wake was the third grade teacher who saw the kids, their families, and the Scolleys through that tragedy and also through the pandemic. 

This year, he has those same kids in sixth grade and they, along with their parents, nominated Wake for the award.

Learning technology company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) announced the inaugural HMH Lighthouse Awards, in partnership with acclaimed speaker and author of “The Lighthouse Effect,” Steve Pemberton and Carmen Ortiz-McGhee, Chief Operating Officer at the National Association of Investment Companies and a “human lighthouse” featured in Pemberton’s book.

“The Lighthouse Effect tells the stories of 10 seemingly ordinary people who I met along my life journey,” Pemberton said. “Their lives are much like lighthouses, humble in purpose and yet illuminating in their ability to guide and protect. The book was inspired by a high school teacher, John Sykes, who took me in as a teenager and turned my doubts into a destination.”

Wake paced around the elementary gymnasium listening to the accolades and appreciation of the adults and kids he has had such a huge impact on.

Mike Scolley opened the ceremony telling the story of how he and Shannon lost their son and how Wake has been a consistent and reassuring force in their lives from the tragedy to today.

Phil Carlson followed suit with an emotional speech about tragedy in his family’s life and shared with the kids his thoughts on Wake and how they got through the ordeal of three years ago together.

“Third grade was great for all of you and all of us as parents, until all of a sudden it wasn’t,” said Carlson. “We had tragedy strike early in the year and Mr. Wake guides us through that, guided all of you through that. That was difficult for everybody and right on the heels of that COVID hit. Another gut punch, now we’re out of school and we have to learn from home and Mr. Wake steps up. He helped guide, not only you, but he helped guide us in teaching and making sure your learning wasn’t too disrupted. He was helping us and you anytime we needed it. That’s what good leaders do.”

Carlson expounded upon those challenges and more and how Mr. Wake met all of those with a steady hand and demeanor.

“Every time you talked to him he was just Mr. Wake,” Carlson said. 

Event organizer Tabiatha Branden was a former student of Wake’s and her speech showed just how wide Mr. Wake’s influence and caring can spread in just one family.

“If there is anybody in this district who believed in me as an 18-year-old mom, it was Mr. Wake and Mrs. Wake,” she said. “For that, I’m thankful that my daughter, who I had as a teen, got him twice in a row and thank you for not only guiding her, me, my husband and all of my children and taking us in as if we are yours.”

Multiple sixth graders stood up to thank Mr. Wake for caring about them, instructing them and making them feel safe. Emotions continued to crescendo in the gymnasium until Mr. Wake took the mic after accepting it from the Scolleys.

“I got into teaching and I didn’t know where it was going to take me,” Wake said. “Life has a way of turning and meandering different ways to different beats. But all I do know is that if I was selected the lighthouse, you’re my ships. You’re the ones that are bringing in the future. I’m humbled, I’m honored.”

Wake spoke directly to his students and the meaning behind his words were indicative of why so many people appreciate him and why he was one of 10 award winners nationwide.

“I always tell you, don’t ever stop learning, don’t ever stop loving, don’t ever stop being the brightest light of the circle of your influence,” said Wake. “Keep working on that legacy. I knew you guys since third grade and I’ve seen you grow. I couldn’t be prouder of having this award but I’m even more proud that I have you in my life.”

Wake finished his talk by asking for a group hug from his students, which he got.

More information on the award can be found at hmhco.com under the Company tab in News Announcements.

Photo by Robert Williams
At the conclusion of his award acceptance speech, sixth grade teacher Chuck Wake asked for a group hug from his sixth grade class and got one to finish an emotional ceremony at the Frazee-Vergas elementary school Friday, April 28.