Above and Beyond

Feb. 5-11, 2004
Above and Beyond
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
A Whitesboro couple makes outstanding contributions to the community

WHITESBORO –– Brian and Sarah McQueen love what they do –– and it shows. The couple each recently received separate awards for their efforts to make the school community in which they serve a better place. In October of 2003, Sarah was honored with the 2003 Mohawk Valley West Family and Consumer Science Teacher of the Year Award. One month later, Brian was presented with Daemen College Distinguished Alumni Award for Community Service.

The McQueens are parishioners of St. Anne’s Church in Whitesboro. They have one son, Ryan, a junior at Oriskany High School. Brian serves as principal at Oriskany Elementary School, where he oversees 452 students. It is the largest elementary school in Whitesboro. Sarah is consumer science teacher at Oriskany High School. Both are actively involved in their school communities and go above and beyond what their positions entail. Family and Consumer Science teaches students about family life and relationships. The subject has drastically changed from previous years, noted Sarah. “Family and Consumer Science used to be what we called ‘Home Ec,’” she explained. “People think that I teach kids how to cook and sew but there is so much more. The old stigma is gone.”

There are waiting lists for Sarah’s classes. “I try to make my classes as exciting as possible. The students are never bored,” said Sarah. She teaches youths life skills such as consumerism, college planning and how to buy a car, using innovative and “hands-on” techniques to get their attention. Sarah began a program which brings pre-schoolers into one of her high school classes for an hour and a half each week. Her students guide the children in reading lessons, play and socialization. The interaction teaches older students how to work with children, said Sarah. “I could be teaching them from a book, but this is a fun and different technique,” she said. Under Sarah’s leadership the Family and Consumer Science program at Oriskany High School has thrived, said principal Michael Deuel. “Sarah’s innovative, enthusiastic and genuine concern for the total education program is exemplary. Her flexibility in working with students, teachers and the community has earned her an inviolable reputation as an excellent teacher who truly cares,” Deuel wrote in his recommendation for the award.

Like Sarah, Brian also has the concern of his students at heart. “Brian’s signature has been -– and continues to be –– activity,” read the nomination form for his award. He has served as coach of football, baseball and basketball teams. But it is Brian’s 27 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Whitesboro Fire Department that spurred his nomination from Daemen College. He has created a Children’s Fire Safety Expo (which educated more than 17,000 students over 13 years) and served as chair for the Fire and Safety Committee. For the committee, Brian designed a statewide essay/poster contest, and a fire and life nationally distributed safety calendar, using artwork from students across the state.

One of Brian’s greatest achievements is his involvement with Risk Watch, a school-community based life safety program. It is the first comprehensive injury-prevention curriculum available for use in schools. Brian served as chairperson of the New York State Risk Watch Coalition. It was a three-year process to get the project started, which develops community coalitions between schools, fire, EMS and police agencies. The time and dedication put into the project will benefit hundreds of students and teachers, Brian said. “Fire prevention is a lifelong teaching skill,” said Brian. “By effectively instilling positive attitudes and values in our children today, frequent repeating of the life safety messages will help us develop a safe learning environment for our students.”

On occasion, Brian has to interrupt dinner when he is called off to battle a fire. And Sarah’s commitment to her students makes for long nights at the school. The couple agrees that family life, most importantly their son, is the foundation for their many successes. Family makes everything they are able to accomplish possible, said Brian. “Every day brings new challenges, but we support each other in everything that we do,” he said. “In any walk of life, family is what’s most important.”

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