Gavin Downing.COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Gavin Downing.COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kentridge High librarian wins WEA’s Student Involvement Award

Gavin Downing says he tries to make library welcoming and usable

Gavin Downing, Kentridge High School’s teacher-librarian, is this year’s recipient of the Student Involvement Award selected by Washington Education Association’s (WEA) Human and Civil Rights Committee.

On Sept. 18, the committee honored Downing with a presentation of the award at the Kentridge Library, according to a Sept. 20 Kent School District media release.

“It is a tremendous honor,” Downing said after the award presentation. “I was dumbstruck even to realize I was in the running, much less to be told that I had won.”

Downing has demonstrated excellence in the Kent School District since 2006, according to the district. When asked what he thought contributed to his selection as the recipient of this award, he replied:

“I commit to always working hard to make whatever space I’m in a welcoming and usable place by the students. That’s always been my center, and I think that’s a key piece.”

He attributes his passion for education to his family.

“My grandparents were both educators for many years,” he said. “They really were an inspiration for me.”

According to the WEA, Student Involvement nominees will have:

• Initiated programs or activities to benefit the school students or community; and/or lead by example, giving unselfishly and/or offering support; and/or

• Developed group activities that promote well-rounded student participation.

The annual National Education Association (NEA) and WEA Human and Civil Rights Awards are connected to the 1966 merger of the NEA and the American Teachers Association (ATA). The ATA, representing Black teachers in segregated schools in the South, traditionally honored leaders in the justice and civil rights movement at an annual awards dinner.

This inspirational program was necessary to acknowledge progress towards justice nationwide and uplift positive impacts on the education of students of color. As a newly merged association, the NEA has held to this tradition each year since 1967, celebrating leaders in racial justice, social justice, and human and civil rights.

As conceived by ATA, the awards program honors individuals and organizations, including from within the association, who have expanded educational opportunities for students who have been traditionally marginalized and those who have advanced and expanded human and civil rights in their communities.

Winners receive a monetary award, a plaque award, recognition of their achievements through a video at the annual WEA Representative Assembly, and they have the opportunity to share their story at the annual WEA Teaching Equity Conference in the hopes of replicating their level of advocacy for marginalized student populations. Human and Civil Rights Award nominations are completed by WEA members who want to recognize their colleague’s contributions to racial and social justice.

Prior to Kentridge, Downing worked as the librarian at Cedar Heights Middle School, where in 2022 he won the Candace Morgan Intellectual Freedom Award from the Washington Library Association for his work fighting for intellectual freedom and against censorship and book banning in public school libraries.

Downing defended LGBTQIA+ books in a middle school library after the books were unilaterally removed by school administrators who found their content and themes to be inappropriate.

In addition to his librarian duties, Downing, of Federal Way, is running on the Nov. 7 general election ballot for the Federal Way School Board. He is running against Joan Marie Murphy, a former special ed teacher in Federal Way Public Schools.

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