Meet April’s CityMaker, Dr. Daryl Ward.
In short, Daryl believes in a transformative form of education — he wants education to transform a student’s life – to make them “better” than when they began their education. Whether a student is a better violin player, a better math student, or even, a better person, Daryl wants education to make a positive impact on an individual.
“That’s the thing that frustrates me with the current state of education. We’re trying to standardize everything,” Daryl said. “We’re trying to script everything, and in many cases, we’re trying to remove the human dynamic. But teaching is a relational endeavor.”
Creative Mind, Creative Space
Chances are, if you have lived in Lakeland for any amount of time, you’re familiar with Publix, George Jenkins, and the role he and his Super Market have had on our community. He’s a cherished figure in our history, and his family plays a huge role in making Lakeland one of the most philanthropic cities in Florida.
Last Spring, the then-chairman of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce board, Janice Tedder Jones, asked Daryl to get Harrison involved in the Chamber’s annual meeting, a meeting honoring the Small Business of the Year and the George Jenkins Award for Community Leadership recipient. She planned on honoring the philanthropic legacy of George Jenkins and all he did for the community at this meeting and hoped Daryl could get some students involved. After brainstorming and batting around several ideas, Daryl finally said he would write a musical.
During the following summer and fall semesters, Daryl got to writing. He set out to highlight three important ways Jenkins gave back to our community: how he helped his employees, how he helped individuals without broadcasting his deeds to the public for recognition, and how he gave to various causes in the community. So he wrote a song about each of these philanthropic efforts.
After months of writing the script and lyrics, he sent his work to former Harrison student Tyler Campbell to write the music. Suzi Lambert and Laurel Renfroe, faculty members at Harrison, joined forces to choreograph, cast, and direct the musical. When the school premiered it at the Lakeland Chamber Annual Meeting in January, Daryl said, “It was way better than I wrote it.”
“People were just blown away by the quality of it,” he said. “Which was so humbling to me. It was really affirming to hear people speak so highly of the lyrics and of the music that Tyler wrote, and then, speak so highly of the students, who just stinking hit a home run.”
The performance received positive feedback from people at Publix, who told Daryl that he truly was able to capture the kind of person George Jenkins was and how he shaped this community. But on top of that, Daryl said it was powerful to show the Chamber and our community what the young people in our city can create, contribute, and accomplish.
Raising a Better Community
Daryl says he has many names he’s proud to have – dad, husband – but outside of family, the one he’s most proud of is “teacher.” In his 30 years in education, Daryl has a ton of stories and memories, and he’s always happy to hear from a former student.
He thought it was truly humbling when a former student of his said he was the reason she became a teacher. His response to her? Think it through. Think of the children and the community in which you’re working, because if your heart’s not in it, you’re doing everyone a disservice.
In a time where education seems to be a hot topic, we are so grateful to have Daryl among us bringing his excitement for teaching and turning our students into powerful thinkers and creators.
“I want them to be better people when they leave,” Daryl said. “It makes the school a better place, hopefully, it makes the community a better place by investing in young people, and the biggest way I do that is by letting them know that I believe in them. You can do powerful things when people believe in you.”
Daryl has chosen to believe in the young people in this community, he’s chosen to give his students and his faculty room to grow and room to fail. And by doing so, he’s made his school and his community a safer place to grow, improve, learn, make great art, and bring positivity to those around us.
Here’s to a generation of future CityMakers, and the current CityMakers that show them the way.