The applications for the inaugural James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships read like autobiographies—with deeply personal details from students meeting select criteria, revealed in hopes of securing financial help from a renowned mystery author.
“I’m committed to a school I love, in classes that are challenging, exciting and expensive, with minimal means to pay for it,” Isabella Thornett wrote. “Without the James Patterson Scholarship, I might have to postpone my dream of teaching until I can afford it.
“I can’t wait that long.”
Thornett is one of four children. Her single mother emigrated from El Salvador, alone, at 17. Thornett’s application describes how badly she wants to teach, how she came to love books, and how much she wants to be memorable for a child. But equally powerfully, it proves how deeply she wants to make her mother proud.
scholarship donor James Patterson
photo: Deborah Feingold
“According to an African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” Samantha Thon wrote in her application. “Because I had so many people to count on, I want to be someone others can count on.”
Thon’s mother is an educator, supporting a family that includes Thon’s health-challenged father and her grandmother, who suffers from dementia.
Sitting in a conference room, Thon describes visiting her cherished kindergarten teacher last year.
“I told her, ‘All because of you, I’m studying to be a teacher,’” she says. “She was really happy to know that she had that big of an impact on me. I want to have that impact on a child, as well.”
Erin Vogan wants to work with special needs students. She spent her high school years in a program called Best Buddies, a peer-to-peer group that fosters friendships between students with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. Vogan's buddy is on the autism spectrum.
“People treat their peers who have special needs like they’re little kids,” she says. “I realized that, as a teacher, I could help educate students: ‘These kids are older than you or the same age as you, so treat them that way. They’re not any different.’”
In May, Vogan was her buddy’s date for his senior prom.
Best-selling author James Patterson and his wife, Susan, established eight $6,000 renewable scholarships last year for Towson freshmen who intend to become teachers. The Pattersons selected Towson University because of its long-established reputation for outstanding education programs. They also loved the university's Reading Clinic, which serves community children and teens who have trouble with literacy.
Reading is a passion for Patterson, the son of a teacher, who has expanded his focus from writing grown-up thrillers to include middle school tales and a website called readkiddoread.com, to encourage a lifelong relationship with reading. He and his wife provided the scholarships to foster intended education majors who will place a special emphasis on literacy.
In early June, the Pattersons committed an additional eight scholarships for incoming freshmen, for a total of 16 scholarships and $96,000 in aid for the academic year.
“These future teachers are already having a tangible impact in their community, and I wanted to help them,” Patterson says.
Now finished with their first year as Patterson Scholars, the eight students each say they are more excited now than ever about their futures.
“The classroom is a really diverse place, and we’re learning so much about it,” says Morgan Engelhardt, who wants to teach fourth grade. She took six courses in the spring term. “I think it’s amazing that I’m starting to apply every class to how I want to be as a teacher.”
Tyler Puryear, too, took six courses, so he can participate in the “TU in Australia” study abroad program in the fall. He has four siblings, three of them also in college, and he’s putting himself through school. “I have never let financial problems stand in the way of something that is very important to me,” he wrote in his application. “I could not see myself doing anything besides teaching.”
The students each say they’re overwhelmed by Patterson’s generosity—even though every one of them needed the help. A tearful Thornett says it’s incredible that the writer could put so much faith in a stranger like her. But ask Erin Vogan what she would say to her benefactor, and her first answer comes quickly.
“I’d probably get some writing tips from him.”
There’s much to be said for writing your own story. But as Towson’s first Patterson Scholars have learned, sometimes a ghostwriter turns your tale into something extraordinary.
MEET THE PATTERSON SCHOLARS
Early Childhood certification
Early Childhood Education/
By Christine Collins. Photos by Kanji Takeno.