The Value of a North Country Education

Rande Richardson

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” — John Steinbeck 

As I grow older and raise my two children, I become increasingly aware of the gratitude I feel for having experienced a north country education. My 13 years as a student in the Watertown City School District were a great gift. While I did not fully realize it at the time, nearly every aspect of my K-12 experience helped set me on a path that would position me to take the next steps toward a fulfilling life and career. 

    We know that investing in students is something that has great potential to pay dividends not only for the adult they will eventually become, but for our community and the world they will inherit. This occurs best in a learning environment where students feel valued and supported and where a sense of belonging is instilled. There are many responsible for making our schools work. Administrators, teachers, coaches and staff contribute to shape the hearts, minds and lives of our children. While none of us remembers every lesson taught, we recall educators who imparted their wisdom with intention, care and joy. We know how those special teachers made us feel, how they listened, how they supported us to find the best version of ourselves and our role in society. 

    Educators have a responsibility like few others. Their profession is one from which all other professions stem. As time passes, our communities are diminished with the loss of those who provided decades of educational leadership and wisdom. This summer, we lost someone who embodied all the qualities of a transformative educator. For Barbara Hanrahan-White, her purpose was always greater than the delivery of instruction. In so many ways, she was representative of my best educational influences. She loved what she did and that made her presence even more powerful. 

    I reflect upon a woman who not only moved countless local students forward, but with kindness, love and dedication, created a never-ending wave of positivity. I am humbled that her legacy will have a permanent home here, and that through a memorial fund created in her name, that story can be told to those who may not have known her. Those whose lives were impacted by her, will always be part of the fund’s work. Since its inception in 1929, the Northern New York Community Foundation has held as a core belief the understanding of, and tireless advocacy for, an educated community. It is an organization Mrs. Hanrahan-White helped passionately guide for more than a decade. 

Barbara Hanrahan-White was an educator and administrator in the Watertown City School District from 1956 to 1987. She passed away in August at the age of 92.

    This year, more than 600 students from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties received support from scholarship funds established at the Community Foundation. Several commemorate the lives and careers of educators who continue to make a meaningful difference in the lives of students as they embark on varied educational journeys. The tools that come from a solid education help prepare students to face the obstacles that inevitably come their way. They provide a solid foundation for citizenship, sharing commonality while embracing uniqueness and individuality. They supply us with compassionate leaders for our region’s organizations and institutions. 

    In remembering Barbara Hanrahan-White, I recall all the positive educational influences I was blessed to have. While, with her loss, I am reminded of the relative shortness of life, I am even more aware that the difference made during a lifetime can be nearly infinite. She knew the power she held in her hands. She knew the responsibility that came with that privilege. For her, it was never simply a job. She understood that it was more important to be a facilitator of learning than an authority figure. Because of her and so many like her, countless students were provided one of the greatest and most enduring gifts and the ability and desire to share it with others.