Lauren Weinberg Staff Writer
Late last month, Pioneer High School philosophy and history teacher Jim Robert (JR) was selected as one of the 13 teachers around the country to receive the Kennedy Center’s Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award.
The award was started in 2010 in honor of the American musician’s 80th birthday. Each year, students are able to submit stories about past teachers who have made a significant difference in their lives.
This year, former Pioneer student and president of the Muslim Student Association, Nora Rabiah, submitted a story about how JR provided a food-free classroom for students fasting during Ramadan to spend time in during lunch. In the months following 9/11, there was a backlash towards Muslims across America.
“2001 had been an incredibly stressful year for Arabs and Muslims at Pioneer,” said Robert. This is what inspired him not only to create a food-free room, but to also participate in fasting himself. “My heart went out to them,” he said.
As a recipient of the award, Robert has received a $10,000 grant, some of which he may donate to MSA as they plan to build a gazebo on the Pioneer grounds as a safe-haven for students to pray, escape poor weather conditions, and enjoy each other’s company. Other than that, “I have no idea what I’m going to do,” he said with a chuckle.
In the brief time this award has been around, Robert is the first Pioneer teacher to win it. This is also the first time he has won a national award.
“I’m humbled by it because I’ve always been aware of the connection between the kids who succeed in my classes and those who fail to communicate,” says Robert. “I really haven’t processed it yet.”
Robert says current students, as well as ones from classes as late as 1993, have reached out to him to congratulate him on winning the award.
“He shows extreme devotion to the people around him and is genuinely interested in making the world a better place,” says senior Rae Brigham.
Robert structures his classes to be based around discussion and participation. He tries to increase student involvement by leaving much of the class’s flow up to the students. Opinions are shared in his class through the awareness and understanding of classmates and by asking valuable questions.
Senior Jack Roslovic adds that one of the things that makes “JR” such an amazing teacher is that, “he connects with kids really well and does a good job of keeping his classes really close knit.”