Monday, November 23, 2009

Teachers Honored on the ‘Walk of Hearts’

Back in 2003, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles was doing some work in the downtown area of its Canoga Park neighborhood. That effort included replacing sidewalks, which had been damaged by the Northridge earthquake a decade earlier. As Joe Andrews read local news reports about the sidewalk work, he wondered if there might be a place in the redevelopment plans for a concept he’d been mulling for some time.

Andrews, a local realtor, had long been inspired by the teachers in his life, and he always wished he could do something to honor the ones who changed his life.

“I have loads of memories of teachers who tried to help a kid with ants in his pants,” Andrews told Education World. “At least that’s what they called it back then. Today, there might be a different label for kids afflicted with that condition.”

With thoughts of new sidewalks making news in Canoga Park, and an image in his head of the Hollywood Walk of Fame just 20 miles away, an idea was taking shape. Andrews approached the Canoga Park Chamber of Commerce with his idea for a Walk of Hearts® that would honor Los Angeles teachers. Anyone would be able to nominate a “teacher who changed a life,” Andrews explained. He pictured a plaque inscribed with the words A teacher’s passion comes from the heart and a heart formed from a quill pen. That open heart would signify a teacher’s open heart.

If Andrews was expecting the Chamber to pick up his idea and run with it, he was mistaken. They were intrigued, but overworked Chamber leaders would not be able to carry the ball on such a demanding project. If anyone was to champion the idea, they explained, it would have to be him. And so, with dogged determination, Andrews harnessed that ants-in-your-pants energy and used it to surmount obstacle after obstacle on the way to his goal. Within a year, the first ten inductees were recognized and their plaques were set in cement.

And, just a few weeks ago, five new plaques were unveiled to bring the total number of inductees to 42 teachers.


Herman Katz taught in Los Angeles for 50 years. In that time, Katz touched the lives of countless students, but he affected one particular student’s life by encouraging him to go to college, even helping to pay his way. The kid eventually went to law school, and today that kid -- Antonio Villaraigosa -- is the mayor of Los Angeles. It was Villaraigosa who nominated Katz -- a teacher who changed his life -- for his place on the Walk of Hearts.

The Walk of Hearts has accomplished so many of the goals Andrews had in mind when he conceived the idea. It has “created a buzz about education” in the community, he says. It has helped bring to the forefront the important role that teachers play in a child’s life. And it even played a role in Canoga Park being designated in 2005 as an All-America City.

Now Andrews would like to see the Walk of Hearts program expand into other cities and towns. He is preparing a kit that will help others follow his model and learn from the mistakes he made on the way to seeing Canoga Park’s Walk of Hearts become a community icon. For more information, visit the Walk of Hearts Web site.


Is this an idea that could work in your community? Does your community do something unique or special to recognize inspiring educators who go above and beyond? Click the pencil below to share what your community does so others might learn from your community’s efforts.

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