That was the motto of legendary Sunnybrae School teacher Dorothy Grace Boyajian. And it is her legacy. She started teaching in the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District when she was just 20 years old and taught there for 53 years. Those who were fortunate enough to be her students learned much than the three Rs. She brought the world into her classroom, inviting media representatives, writers, elected officials, parents and others to share their knowledge of different professions and cultures. Her students contributed to local newspaper columns, corresponded with U.S. presidents and other prominent figures, and participated in the Children as Peacemakers project, exchanging letters, ideas and gifts with world leaders.
During the celebration of the bicentennial of the Constitution, they wrote to the justices of the Supreme Court to ask for their insights into the role of the Constitution in today’s society.
When I was on the school board, Boyajian invited me to her classroom on several occasions to read to her students. I never witnessed such a well-behaved and attentive class of young children. You sensed they knew what a great privilege it was to be in Dorothy Boyajian’s class.
She was born in New Jersey, to Armenian parents who had fled to the United States to escape the violence in their home country of Turkey. The family moved to the Bay Area when she was 8 years old. She attended Turnbull Elementary School, San Mateo High School and San Francisco State University, with postgraduate studies at the University of California, Stanford and the College of Notre Dame. She began her teaching career as a student teacher at North Shoreview, and joined its staff upon college graduation. She retired from Sunnybrae in 2004.
She was also a poet and a mentor in creative writing. Her poem “Philosophy of Teaching” reflects her commitment to children and joy in teaching. The poem begins, “People ask me why I teach. The answer is the hearts and minds I reach.”
It concludes: “For in all the world we cannot find
Anything as fascinating and challenging as a child’s mind.
I’m happy and challenged each day/To teach and help each child learn in his or her unique way.
So why do I teach? It’s no mystery.
Where could I find a better job, or more pleasant company?”
Her outstanding teaching skills were honored locally and beyond. In 1987, she was inducted into the San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame. She was named Teacher of the Year by the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District and by San Mateo County in 1989-1990, and she was once judged to be one of the top 40 teachers in the United States. Upon her retirement, U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, published an article, “A Tribute to Ms. Dorothy Grace Boyajian on Her 53 Years of Dedicated Service,” in the U.S. Congressional Record.
Each year at the San Mateo County Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, the Dorothy Boyajian Honored-Teacher Award is presented to a teacher who reflects the teaching role and ideals of Dr. King.
Her legacy of giving so much to the children she taught, is continuing with the Dorothy Boyajian Endowment, established as a living legacy and memorial to Dorothy by her cousin, Joyce Miktarian. It supports Sunnybrae by funding such programs as scholarship awards, technology enhancement, donations to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speech contest, field trips and subscriptions to online and print publications for kids.
Each year, beginning in the 2009 school year, a small group of Dorothy’s colleagues, all retired, came together with the Sunnybrae principal plus one staff member to direct funds of more than $30,000 that would focus on Dorothy’s priorities for the children of Sunnybrae.
For 2018-19, the allocations are: $10,000 to support literacy with the purchase of 25 more chrome books, $1,000 to purchase blank journals for students to publish stories and reports; $2,000 to provide teachers with books that help students understand empathy, compassion and respect; $14,000 for students to attend field trips.; $1,000 to the Martin Luther King Contest; $1,000 scholarships for fifth-grade students; and $1,000 for school assembly to enhance students’ education.
Her favorite quotation:
“Good, better, best,
Never let it rest,
Until your good is better. And your better is the best.
Good, better, best, Now dear friend you can rest,
Knowing your good was better./And your better was the best.”
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.