Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) alumna Rachel Blanks has been named a winner of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 2014 Target Presents PEOPLE All-Star Teachers campaign.
Blanks, an educator at Wogaman 5-8 School in Dayton, Ohio, will represent the Cincinnati Reds at the MLB All-Star Game in Minnesota, which will air on July 15 at 8 p.m. EST on FOX.
Fans nationwide were able to cast their votes online to select 30 winners, one representing each MLB team. The honor is an effort to celebrate teachers and raise awareness about the importance of education.
Blanks didn’t take the traditional route to teaching. While she was earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration at FAMU, Blanks thought she was well on her way to working for a major corporation and, eventually, opening her own business. Things changed while she was working part-time for Leon County Schools’ after school programs.
“I knew while I was working there that this was it,”said Blanks. “When I realized that there were a lot of students that didn’t have what I had growing up and a lot of teachers that didn’t see their potential, I decided that I have to be the change I want to see. I can’t complain about the education system without changing it.”
With that sentiment in mind, Blanks immediately enrolled in the master’s of educational leadership program at FAMU. When she finished in 2010, she went straight to the classroom to change the lives of young people. In 2011, Blanks was named “School-Related Employee of Year” for Bond Elementary School in Tallahassee, Leon County Schools and the State of Florida. She started working for Dayton Public Schools in Ohio and was honored as the 2012 Educator Working for You by WDTN Channel 2.
Her hard work continued even after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during the school year in 2013. Blanks says that her students are one of the reasons she found the strength to return to the classroom.
“They called me and said ‘Wemiss you. When are you coming back?’,” said Blanks. “They were sneaking and calling my hospital room while I was there. Of course, my friends and family helped me pull through, but [knowing] that my students were counting on me helped. I realized I have 276 students in my school watching me, and my 2-year-old daughter, so giving up was not an option.”
As Blanks continued to champion the classroom, someone took notice and anonymously submitted her name to the MLB All-Star Teacher contest. When she found out she was nominated, she asked people to vote for her and was pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of support from everyone, especially those in the FAMU community.
“A lot of the votes came from Rattlers,” said Blanks. “They shared it on Facebook, even Rattlers I didn’t know. It really embodied the whole FAMU spirit.”
Blanks got the official word from MLB that she won on her birthday. She said it was the best birthday gift she ever received. She got congratulatory messages from family, friends, students and parents.
“It really is worth it to be an educator whether you get accolades or not,” said Blanks. “It means so much when a student improves or parents say ‘thank you.’ It’s that little extra that says ‘Hey, you’re doing the right thing keep going.’ Some of my students sent me messages on social media to congratulate me. They told me, ‘I want your autograph.’”
Blanks credits much of her success to the education and training she received while she was at FAMU. Her “Rattler pride” is clearly displayed in her orange and green classroom. She also watches videos of the Marching ‘100’ with her students at recess.
“FAMU taught me to persevere and rise above,” said Blanks. “I don’t see anything as a roadblock, I see it as a stepping stone. FAMU has taught me everything from networking to building relationships to learning how to pay attention to legislation, especially as it pertains to education and students. I’m trying to raise mini-Rattlers in my classroom.”
She is very excited about winning and representing her alma mater, school and team at the All-Star Game.
“Just to know you’re nominated is amazing,” said Blanks. “Sometimes athletes are the number one heroes for children. So for someone to put teachers on that same level is amazing. Teachers are just as important as celebrities. We have to emphasize that because learning and education are so important.”