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Teachers remember former E.M. Stanton student picked fourth in NBA draft

By the Notebook on Jul 12, 2012 04:15 PM
Photo: Reuters

Dion Waiters gets a hug after being picked in the NBA draft by Cleveland.

The following guest blog is from Holly Shaw-Hollis and Ilene Heller, both longtime teachers at E.M. Stanton elementary school in South Philadelphia, who remember new Cleveland Cavalier Dion Waiters.


By Holly Shaw-Hollis, with contributions from Ilene Heller

Dion Waiters is one of our students who finally achieved his dream.  He was the fourth player selected in the NBA draft and will be playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers next season!

As teachers, we are tasked with the goal of helping our students achieve the best that they can, and we hope that they continue to work hard and fight for what they deserve in life. Dion is one of those students who continues to do that.

I have been at E.M. Stanton for 22 years, and Ilene Heller has been at Stanton for 16 years. We have taught many students through the years and have been lucky enough to keep in touch with a number of them. We have seen them overcome adversity, including poverty, abuse, learning disabilities, and emotional problems. Some have continued through college and are now nurses, teachers, graduate students, business owners, and athletes.

Dion is one of the lucky ones. His mother primarily raised Dion, his older brother, and his sister alone, and she taught them that education and family were to be priorities in their lives. His family has always been around him and supported him through the tough times. They have been there when he lost close friends to violence in South Philadelphia and when he had difficulties with school. They have been there when he had to make important choices in his life. Dion has had the structure and motivation to succeed.

At E.M. Stanton, we are privileged to have a wonderful community mentoring program through Bainbridge House. In Ilene Heller’s first-grade class, mentors were assigned to several students. Joe Bradley was assigned as Dion’s mentor. He helped Dion stay focused on school and gave him the chance to see other things outside of his neighborhood. Joe took Dion to places around the city, including sports events. They have kept their friendship going, and Joe is another adult who is proud of the man that Dion has become.

When Dion was at Stanton, he wanted to be the class clown. The smile you see him flash during interviews and photo sessions is the same smile he would show us when he was being mischievous, which was all the time. He has always had a hearty laugh and loves to have fun. He always had a basketball in his hands, and we told him, as we did others, that he needed to study harder so he would have a backup plan in case he wasn’t one of the very few who make it all the way to the pro ranks.

We always had about five boys in every class who, when asked what they wanted to do with their life, answered with “pro basketball player,” or “pro football player.”  We told them it was a hard road, and there were many obstacles in their way, but if that’s what they wanted to do, they should keep practicing and keep learning.

I remember one particular time when Dion was a student in my computer lab. He, along with several other students, complained that the computers were too slow. This is a common complaint among students, as schools have older computers, and we had a slow network. My answer to him was: “When you become rich and famous, don’t forget to come back and buy me a new computer lab. Until then, this is what we have.”  As he has progressed through the college basketball ranks, and now to the NBA, I jokingly remind him of that – always with the caveat that I was just joking. But it still would be nice!

Dion struggled through several high schools, transferring for different reasons, and learned that he had to work on his academics just as hard as he did on his basketball. He had an oral promise from Syracuse University when he was a high school freshman, and he worked hard so he could make it to Syracuse.   

When Dion started on the Syracuse basketball team, he didn’t know that he was going to learn a valuable lesson that would help him achieve his dreams. Dion was used to being the star of the team. He was never on the bench. He was a constant player. What Dion needed to learn from Coach Jim Boeheim was how to be a team player. That meant working hard with others, taking care of himself, and making sure his focus was on the game and not on the publicity and the stars.

In his freshman year, he struggled, and there were rumors that he would not return. Luckily, Coach Boeheim and Dion’s mom made sure he knew that he needed to work hard, not only for himself, but also for all of those who have supported him through the years. I sent him several inspirational messages on Twitter and Facebook, letting him know that we were proud of him, but that his coach and his mom knew a lot more about life then he did, and he needed to listen and learn.

Dion did listen. He went back to Syracuse as a sophomore in better physical and mental condition. He had a different attitude – a team player attitude. He also understood that academics were important. His value in the college basketball rankings went up, because he realized he had to keep working hard and keep learning.

Dion and his mom made the decision for him to leave Syracuse and enter the NBA draft. As a teacher, I had a hard time with this decision. I wanted to see him finish  college. I also understood why he made the decision to go to the NBA. He is in prime physical and mental shape. He has watched his family struggle with finances so he could achieve his dream. This was his chance to give back. He started the Dion Waiters Foundation. His first event raised about $10,000, and has been earmarked for E.M. Stanton, the school that he still comes to visit. He wants to improve the gym area. He wants to give back to those who helped him.

We are so proud of the man Dion has become. He still will have obstacles in life, as we all do. He has the attitude now that he can overcome them, he can get better, as long as he listens and he keeps learning.

We have other students we keep in touch with. Some did not finish high school. Some went on to drop out of college. Some have finished college and are nurses, teachers, medical students, and business owners. Another former student, Sharif Smith, enters college this year with the talent to possibly make it to the NFL. He also knows he needs to work hard and not give up.

As teachers, we feel we have succeeded. Teaching is not just academics. Teaching is motivating a child to want to be someone and to want to be the best that they can be. Teaching is about helping to mold someone’s character, to help a child develop empathy, and to help them fulfill their dreams. Dion has done that with the help of his family, his friends, and hopefully, with his memories of what we taught him at Stanton.

In September, we will have new students to teach. One of those students may be our next mayor, our next secretary of labor, our next successful business owner, or even win an Academy Award. They choose their dreams, and we just help them to be able to live them.

Congratulations, Dion. We are so proud of you and so happy for you and your family!

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Comments (35)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 12, 2012 7:26 pm

Well written, Holly-----JK

Submitted by Ms. Sheila (not verified) on July 12, 2012 9:13 pm

Very Well Put !

Submitted by Jetta (not verified) on July 12, 2012 10:23 pm

Good students are reflections of good teachers

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 24, 2012 8:07 pm

I can't help to agree with you on that, Good Students are indeed a reflection of good teachers, aside from the parents the teachers are the one that will guide a child. Base on the article the teacher is really prod on what his students have become.


Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on July 13, 2012 12:22 am

Loved this!!

Submitted by linda (not verified) on July 13, 2012 12:26 am

Please note that Dion was a Pepper Middle School Student who was encouraged by his middle school coaches and teachers...we are proud of him as well.

Submitted by Holly Shaw-Hollis (not verified) on July 13, 2012 1:33 am

Oh definitely! He had some great teachers along the way! I know he appreciates everyone who has helped him. When I said "we", I meant all of his teachers at all of his schools. I know you are as proud as we are!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 14, 2012 2:27 pm

Dion didn't go to Pepper! He went to Pierce for Middle School!

Submitted by linda (not verified) on July 14, 2012 6:52 pm

hello, nice to meet the art teacher at the school, and having had the lad in my class, I can tell you how he on occaision sought to avoid my classwork but still was charming nonetheless....he was, to my knowledge was not in our 5th or 6th grade but I had the lad in the upper house ...furthermore I was intitally notified by one of his gym teachers of his success prior to the nice write up in the NOTEBOOK......perhaps he transferred at some point....I only posted in recognition of the efforts put forth by are hard working and in my opinion not recognized nearly enough, phys ed best to you in all you do for the children at your school
Linda , an art teacher

Submitted by Holly Shaw-Hollis (not verified) on July 14, 2012 7:17 pm

He went to both! He transferred out of Peirce and went to Pepper, if I remember right, He also was at several high schools. He has had many wonderful mentors along the way in each building he was in. He was at Stanton the longest of any school, (K-6, if I remember right), but I know he remembers teachers at all of his schools. We all have touched many lives.

Submitted by linda (not verified) on July 14, 2012 7:43 pm

Just confirmed with my gym teacher...he came in the 8th and finished at GWP. thanks for the notation....
Art Teacher

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 13, 2012 9:22 am

Nice story! As a teacher, it's always great to see positive outcomes for kids!

Submitted by Ethel Goldberg (not verified) on July 13, 2012 10:09 am

Nice article! Too little publicity is given to the success stories in the School District! We only get to read about the failures.

Best wishes from a retired School District employee.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 13, 2012 6:24 pm

Hi E.M. Stanton: Thanks again for the inspiration. I think the computer lab sounds like a "creative" grant proposal waiting to be written up and submitted to the PSP. Remember to include that you already have starter money waiting to be matched :) There might even be businesses interested in using that EITC to help too.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 13, 2012 6:20 pm

Isn't the EITC a tax credit for businesses to give to students who go to private and parochial schools?

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 13, 2012 6:13 pm

Nope, it's for all schools who care to find a sponsoring business. Keep in mind the credit is 75% of what is donated, so a business must be willing to actually donate that 25% amount. Unfortunately it's the private schools that have the political connections. See your State Rep for details I was told.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 13, 2012 6:41 pm

Here's more detail on the EITC:
Meredith Elementary managed to get classified as an Educational Improvement Organization and thus was eligible for funds. See this link for other schools that have benefitted from these funds:

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 13, 2012 6:50 pm

It may have been the Meredith Home and School that submitted the paperwork, which was signed by Ms. Ackerman to become an Educational Improvement Organization. There was an article referenced earlier this year here on the Notebook. It caught my attention because they were actively seeking to keep the arts programs that were being cut.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 13, 2012 6:20 pm

Sorry for all the addendums: It was the Meredith Home and School, because under the qualifications for an Educational Improvement Organization, it states a public school can not be one. Nonprofits that partner with a school are eligible: Such organizations that have 501c3 status, outreach of Rock School of Ballet, Kimmel Ed, Temple U., etc. Interesting about computers, a company can also donate equipment to a school (through an EIO) and get tax credit for doing so. Check it out :)

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on July 14, 2012 9:41 pm

The CCD district under Paul Levy has applied for its foundation to be an EIO for all 12 schools in the greater Center City area and is already soliciting EITC donations from businesses.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 14, 2012 10:47 pm

Interesting -thanks. I did not know who Paul Levy was, so I looked him up, and found that the/his 501c3 is the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation. He will need to specify in his application how his organization offers innovative programs for the schools that improve their academic achievement, and each school will need to approve this. Keep us posted.

Every school's Home and School (which are 501c3) should be applying to be an EIO. They will need the signature of the Superintendent, soon to be Mr. Hite as well as the approval of their own school. What better way to support a democracy than by equal opportunity? :)

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on July 15, 2012 10:41 am

Know-it-alls who don't actually know that much are the worst.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 15, 2012 12:30 pm

We are the worst aren't we? We managed to dispel the misconcept that the EITC is only for scholarship funds -just terrible :)

The newsletter you reference is put out by the CCD. I don't think capital improvements ("improving curbside appeal" (as typical in most grants) are eligible for funding. Here's from the state pdf referenced (Item #3 under "EIO Eligibility"):

"The organization must contribute at least 80% of its annual EITC receipts as grants to a public school for innovative educational programs that meet the requirements of the Act and these guidelines. Grants may include cash payments to public schools to carry out innovative educational programs or it may
include the costs incurred by an Educational Improvement Organization in providing innovative educational programs to, or in conjunction with, public schools." (The Act refers to "applicable requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964" (non discriminatory) - referenced under the requirements to be classified as a Scholarship Organization)

What happens to that 20% that's not required to be given to schools, with the CCDF? Check out this article about Mr. Levy: Seems his salary is almost twice that of Mayor Nutter's.

Repeated conclusion and entire point of comment: the Meredith Home and School was able to get classified as an EIO. All other interested Home and Schools should be able to do the same. (CC is a long way off from NYC, and PA, as embroiled in its own ego as you prove in your commentary, will forever be.)

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on July 15, 2012 1:06 pm

You are such a bore. You really are. I don't live in Center Center. I don't even particularly care for the Greater Center City Coalition of Neighborhood Schools.

Here is part of the text of the solicitation letter CCD is sending around.

"The Center City District Foundation (CCDF) has applied to become an EIO with full support from the School District of Philadelphia and the Greater Center City Neighborhood Schools Coalition, a group of parents working to supportd owntown’s 12 public elementary schools. As an EIO, the CCDF proposes to assist elementary schools between Girard Avenue and Tasker Street through the following initiatives:
• Anchor Institution Initiative, improving and greening building exteriors and playgrounds and making the school a more attractive place.
• Arts & Culture Initiative, partnering with Center City cultural institutions to offer arts and cultural programs that can serve multiple elementary schools on a rotating basis; and provide access to additional opportunities for students with exceptional artistic ability.
• Foreign Language Development Initiative, expanding the teaching of foreign languages to prepare students for the global economy.
• Entrepreneurship and Financial Literacy Initiative, increasing financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills."

But I am sure you with your Googling know better than that Center City District, its attorneys and the multiple CC HSAs (not just Meredith) that have already earned EIO helping them through the process.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 15, 2012 2:04 pm

I think the point of contention here is that an even more segregated educational system by class is being created then what has already been started with charters.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 15, 2012 3:46 pm

There is no segregation if all apply. There is no contention, just information that needs to get out. The Greater Center City Neighborhood Schools Coalition was started by the Meredith parents as well. This should as Anon has said, really be "common" knowledge. Why did I get the comment that it was thought EITC was only for scholarship funds? Did anyone from Stanton say they already knew about the CCDF's application? The CCD must be pretty confident they were approved to already be soliciting donations.

There are nonprofit Arts and other organizations that already partner with the PSD schools. Why wouldn't they want to apply to be their own EIOs?

Indeed the EITC is not fair, and gives business decision makers more say in where education tax money goes than a voter who does not own a business. It is there however; and to make things more fair, more need to apply

I am skeptical of the newly created CCDF, because it adds a layer of decision making/politics between the groups that actually do the work for the schools, the schools, and the State funding. I applaud them however if they follow through (and don't hang on to that 20%).

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on July 15, 2012 4:22 pm

You're on fire today! Sure, Center Center District which maintains a massive database of all the businesses in the district as that's how it collects its mandatory fees has absolutely no leg up over a dinky parent-run North Philly HSA. Those parents just need to apply and then solicit donations from all the corner stores and then there will be no inequity or segregation in the SDP!

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 15, 2012 4:21 pm

Can't hurt to try.

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on July 15, 2012 4:17 pm

Look-- those schools already have a leg up because of the population they serve. More kids come to school fed, more kids enter Kindergarten already reading, fewer kids come from extremely unstable home situations.

This kind of argument against inequity is what caused the busing fiasco. Until we have a completely socialist society, there are going to be inequalities. It's also not totally correct-- some schools in much less advantaged areas have formed lasting partnerships with businesses in Center City.

But the argument that they shouldn't get it because not everyone can is harmful to the district. The parents in the HSAs in Center City area schools are one of our last allies in the fight for public education. The schools in those neighborhoods are more diverse than many imagine, for example, McCall's catchment includes Chinatown and a large shelter for people who are homeless.

When we think about equitable funding, we need to be thinking about statewide, nationwide funding. Not the extra donations some schools can generate.

I also think you are selling parent-run HSAs short. With a stable school environment and the support of local community organizations, some of them can be pretty powerful as well.

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on July 15, 2012 4:21 pm

I'm not saying CCD shouldn't do what it's doing or the schools shouldn't get the money. Unlike Ms. Cheng, I'm being realistic about the impact.

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on July 15, 2012 5:57 pm

Oh agreed. CC is the area with the greater number of businesses that might be willing to donate the largest amounts. Even if school organizations in say North Philly get it together to obtain EIO status, they'll have nowhere near the power and system to solicit donations as something like CCD. This is resorting to a totally backwards way of funding education out of desperation.

Submitted by (not verified) on August 29, 2013 11:02 pm
You could certainly see your enthusiasm within the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren't afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 18, 2012 11:10 am

Sounds like you really succeeded at Stanton. A bad kid, who happens to be really good at basketball drops out of college- a real role model. What about the the countless other students who want "to be the class clown" and are "mischievous?" Do they get treated with the same one-dimensional reverence? Sounds like a lot of educators trying to ride the coattails of someone who has become famous due to success in sport, in spite of a complete disregard to the values of education. Yes, it is nice to say you know someone famous, but get a grip. I hope the new students you teach in September all get the same focus and attention, even if their prospects for fame and fortune are at a more realistic level.

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on July 18, 2012 11:30 am

Drops out of college to JOIN THE NBA. I really hope you aren't a teacher. What a poisonous, toxic attitude. We have all had mischievous students who warmed our hearts; it doesn't say he went around punching people and throwing chairs.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 18, 2012 12:44 pm

It appears this young man received many extra chances (4 high schools, 2 middle schools, etc.) because of basketball. He obviously isn't alone. When athletics trumps academics, there are often grave consequences - just look at Penn State.

It amazes me that a university of the caliber of Syracuse would accept a 9th grader with an iffy academic record because of basketball. Wouldn't it be nice if students who other skills/interests were given the same options and multiple chances.

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