Dina Alsaffar and Deirdre Donovan

Donovan Honored as Unsung Hero

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Thursday September 14, 2017

“I chose Mrs. Donovan as an Unsung Hero because she’s entirely deserving of the name. She made me recognize my strengths and weaknesses. She encouraged me, challenged me, and created a bond that I’m forever grateful for. She taught me the value of hard work, dedication, and passion for everything I do.” So says 2016 South Burlington High School (SBHS) graduate Dina Alsaffar of SBHS teacher Deirdre Donovan. Earlier this year, in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, the admissions office at Saint Michael’s College asked first-year students to share about heroic teachers from their high school. According to the college, in particular, “The teachers who truly made a difference in their lives and inspired them to pursue higher education.” Alsaffar nominated Donovan, who then became one of 57 Unsung Heroes, from 54 schools in 10 states across two nations, recognized for their passion for teaching, ability to go above the call of duty, and taking time to connect with students.

“This is the most meaningful kind of recognition because it comes directly from a student,” says Donovan. “I do not consider myself a hero but I do believe the work teachers do on a daily basis can at times be ‘unsung.’ Teaching has become a complex job that requires a broad skill set. Teachers today have to balance the educational needs of individual students but also prepare them for a rapidly changing world. This is no easy task.”

Donovan teaches Honors U.S. History, AP Government and Politics, and Public Issues and World Affairs at SBHS. “I love so many aspects of my job. First and foremost, I love the energy of high school students and the challenge of making history interesting. I especially love when students engage with the material and they realize that history is simply ordinary people in the context of their time. It is amazing to watch students make connections, empathize, and even become active in their community. History connects us. It lays the foundation for us to understand one another and the broader world. It is pretty humbling to watch that happen in the classroom.”

For Alsaffar, who is the daughter of Saffaa Alsaffar of South Burlington and Hania Mahassen of Dubai, the nomination was personal. Beyond noting Donovan’s ability to make class enjoyable, she says, “Mrs. Donovan was able to create a yearning and passion towards the understanding of what’s happening in the world around me and what difference I can make within it. She took my mind out of a typical classroom setting and situated it in that of the real world.”

Making a difference in the world isn’t just a concept for Alsaffar, it is one she puts into practice. She and Kiran Waqar, a senior this year at SBHS, recently returned from Capitol Hill where the two met with members of Congress to advocate for anti-poverty programs. Their trip was part of the RESULTS International Congress this past July where Alsaffar heard directly from leading experts on issues related to poverty and inequality, while advocating for the Global Partnership for Education and the Reach Every Mother and Child Act.

Currently a sociology and anthropology major at Saint Michael’s College, Alsaffar says her studies continue to open her mind. “It’s allowed me to understand that the world isn’t as simple as my comfortable little bubble in Vermont made me feel and that I’ve got so much more to learn and achieve.”

“I find Dina to be the ‘unsung hero.” Her strength and grace are remarkable,” says Donovan. “She is a role model for understanding and tolerance, which our world greatly needs right now. I look forward to watching Dina continue to grow as a learner at Saint Michael’s College and beyond.”

The admiration and respect is mutual. Alsaffar remarks, “As far as I’m aware, every student who has taken a class with her can agree that she’s one of the greatest teachers South Burlington has to offer. She makes every student work hard for the grade they deserve, her teaching style accommodates a variety of learning styles, and her character as a whole is simply amazing.”

Donovan, who has been teaching at SBHS since 2000, notes that students today are dealing with a rapidly changing technological world. “They are faced with serious issues ranging from terrorism to global warming to the cost of college and a shifting economy. I hope to help them develop a voice and an ability to navigate this complex and dynamic world.” A worthy task she seems to be ready for, as she adds, “I am looking forward to the new school year and all of the possibilities it will bring.”


SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper