Meet Jayden and Be Changed

Meet Jayden and Be Changed

By Michael Dunlea

Jayden is a four-year-old who lives in Salt Lake City with his mom and grandmother. I got to meet him at our day of service at the beginning of NNSTOY’s teacher leadership conference in the summer of 2015.

If you met him, you’d probably notice right away that Jayden is quiet and shy, a kid who seems reticent at first. I remember that I had to call on my old pre-school teaching tricks to draw him out of his shell. Before long, though, Jayden took my hand and paraded me around his classroom, showing off his favorite spots. Later on the playground he gave me a tour, talking to me in the sweetest voice about things he liked to do. We were best buds in no time.

I still think about Jayden. He’s a kid who has no male role models, and I think his hunger for male connection is one reason he allowed me into his life for one day. Every child deserves that: the chance to feel important and valued. Through our service day, NNSTOY helped me to bond with Jayden and make a connection that has stayed with me long after I left Utah.

I bring up the story of Jayden because when I was considering becoming the first Finalist to be an NNSTOY member back in 2013, I had some reservations. And I had questions: How would this association be different from other teacher leadership organizations? Would I fit in as a Finalist?  What could I contribute, and what could I learn?

Two years later I can say I’ve found a home of sorts in NNSTOY, an organization that passionately advocates for and lifts up students across the country. Even as we work to advance the teaching profession, NNSTOY members are focused on our students. What we do alters thdunleae trajectories of students’ lives.

If you've been to one, you know that every NNSTOY National Teacher Leadership Conference begins with a day of service. In Philadelphia in 2014, I spent the day working with Cradles to Crayons. Cradles to Crayons is an outstanding organizatino that provides children (from birth to age 12 who live in low-income and homeless situations) with the essential items they need to thrive “at home, at school and at play.” In 2015 I worked with Jayden in Utah, and at the Chicago 2016 Conference last summer, I spent time with with students from Mooseheart Child City.  I dressed up as the Cat in the Hat, along with NNSTOY members Pam Reilly (Illinois 2014, who stole the show), Brett Bigham (Oregon 2014), Allison Riddle (Utah 2014) and Deb McDonald (Ohio 2014). We performed for the students of Mooseheart, a residential learning facility for children from infancy through high school.

During our time of Annual Giving, I am proud to be part of this organization, which gives me opportunities to reach students like young Jayden and the children at Mooseheart. Not everyone has the opportunity to directly impact the lives of students like teachers. Your donation can help change the lives of children in a positive way while elevating the teaching profession at the same time.


Michael Dunlea is a New Jersey Finalist for State Teacher of the Year (2012). He teaches second grade at Ocean Acres Elementary in Manahawkin, New Jersey.

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