A local schoolteacher’s work abroad and influence locally has earned her the Peace and Justice Human Rights Award from a statewide educators’ association
Kathleen Minck, a second-grade teacher at Ocean View Elementary School in Arroyo Grande, has taught at the primary level for 29 years and served on various education committees.
But her influence at home and abroad earned Minck the award from the California Teachers Association earlier this month.
Minck said she normally shies away from awards, but the peace and justice honor “just rang a bell” with her.
“It resonated with me,” she explained.
The CTA State Council of Education adopted the CTA Human Rights Awards Program in October 1984 to promote and protect human and civil rights.
Minck’s advocacy abroad, which spans about one-third of her career, began about 10 years ago in Manila, Philippines, where she said she witnessed severe child poverty.
“You see beggars whose legs have been broken so that they can get more money,” she said. “You see children digging in dirt piles trying to get syringes. You see all of the waterways polluted with trash, just a lot of extreme poverty.”
Minck said the images sparked her interest in expanding educational opportunities abroad. That spark ignited when she saw a documentary on child labor in Manila that Free the Children, an international education and human rights charity, produced.
The organization’s international awareness campaign in the U.S. helped guide Minck’s work in a nutrition and wellness committee in the Lucia Mar Unified School District, and she partnered with Free the Children to host assemblies and rally support for initiatives about healthy eating, exercise and caring for the world at six district schools.
Minck decided, after reading the New York Times bestseller “Three Cups of Tea,” to travel to Kenya in the remote village of Ngumbulu. Minck said, with no running water or electricity, she worked alongside villagers to build a secondary school.
When she shared the experience with parents and students locally, it led to a fundraiser that raised $1,000 split between a local animal shelter and the Ngumbulu school Minck helped build.
“If you want to make a difference, you tap into the energy of the children,” she said.
But when a lapse in funding caused local work with Free the Children to grind to a halt, Minck shifted her focus to educational funding.
She traveled to Venezuela in 2009 and Cuba in 2010 to research systems that offered access to government-subsidized education and health care. Minck presented her research to the Civil Rights in Education committee for the California Teachers Association State Council.
She lobbied legislators nationally and in California to support more education funding. When education funding ballot items materialized in 2012, Minck said she walked precincts and knocked on doors to get voters to mark “yes” on Proposition 30 and “no” on Proposition 32, items to lend more money to California schools.
“Both propositions went the way we wanted, so we were very happy with the outcome of that,” she said.
Minck translated a need for educational advocacy abroad to students locally with cultural awareness lessons and fundraising initiatives.
But Scott Danielson, a third-grade teacher at Ocean View, said Minck has been as instrumental in advocating for teachers’ rights as students.
“She’s done an enormous amount to help our teachers union,” he said. “And for many years, she wouldn’t accept any accolades at all. She didn’t think it was fair to other teachers.”
Danielson said the CTA human rights award was “near and dear to her heart.”
He has worked across an outdoor corridor from Minck for about five years.
“She’s always been there, and I’ve always been here,” Danielson said.
He recommended Minck for the CTA award in January and described the veteran teacher as selfless, dedicated and concerned.
Danielson said Minck’s time in Kenya and positive attitude about the experience is a testament to her character.
“She lived like the people there lived,” he said. “She was glad to have had that experience. She didn’t speak negatively.”
Minck mixed cement, helped with scaffolding and dug trenches to prevent flooding on a dirt road that leads to the school.
“You think about what you’re going to do during your summer vacation,” Danielson said. “This is what she did.”
Minck described the work as “backbreaking but fulfilling.” She said the most important principle she learned was to work with the villagers instead of working for them.
“I didn’t want to come in like the great white hope doing this project for them,” she said. “The idea was to work with them.”