When we interview successful Every Child Valued (ECV) alumni, we find one recurring thread consistent with our Stars’ success. We always ask ECV alumni, “Whom do you remember having a lasting impact on your success and why?” The recurring answer without hesitation in almost all of the interviews is “Ms. Courtney.”
Courtney Leonard is the thread connecting the blanket of Stars at Every Child Valued for over 20 years. Starting as a Lawrence High School volunteer in 2001, she arrived every day after school to help children with their homework. Miss Courtney was calm and supportive and offered assistance to children who needed reassurance of their capabilities. She had an intuitive knowledge as a tutor as well as her welcoming demeanor toward the children as they entered the after-school homework program at the Fred Vereen Center.
Above all, however, what made Miss Courtney so special was her ability to care and to empathize. An ECV Star remembered several people who stood out to him. Miss Courtney was the first person he recalled (along with Mr. Dillard and Ms. Lori). When asked why they were so important, he said, “Because they cared about the children. Everyone was kind and caring.”
Another of her former second-grade students wrote an essay in fifth grade remembering Ms. Courtney. The student wrote, “When I see her it brings back memories of second grade that make me smile and laugh. We called her Lenny. I have very fond memories of Ms. Leonard that I will play in my mind like a movie forever.”
In teaching, however, caring and empathy are necessary but not always sufficient to make a difference in children’s lives. In that regard, Ms. Leonard has overcome many obstacles to truly brand herself as a “lifelong learner.” We in the teaching profession like to call ourselves lifelong learners, but Courtney Leonard is the example we can all be proud to follow. Her mantra is a quote from the great poet and essayist Samuel Johnson who said, “Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance…” Ms. Leonard is a model for doing great work through perseverance.
When she was young, she remembers that her parents always valued education and made sure that all of the children in the family were successful in school. She said, “ My parents had no concept about college, but, education was always important.” She mentioned that her parents always hired tutors for her and her brothers when they needed help. She recalled being tutored by the legendary Mrs. Biddle who was one of the first African American teachers in Lawrence and one of the first African American teachers to become a district supervisor. It was through the help and example set by people like Mrs. Biddle that Ms. Leonard’s grit and perseverance continued after high school.
Courtney Leonard worked and paid her way through college. She first attended Mercer County Community College then transferred to William Patterson University where she achieved honors through both the National Honor Society and the International Honor Society in Psychology (PSI CHI). She achieved these honors while carrying a full academic course load and holding down two jobs. She is now a member of the Social-Emotional Learning Committee for Hopewell Valley Public Schools and has used that knowledge to bring more social-emotional learning activities to the children at ECV. This leadership was critical especially during the 2020 – 2022 pandemic according to Nicole Cody, Executive Director at ECV. In addition, Ms. Leonard is fluent in American Sign Language and as of 2020 is a Registered Behavior Technician.
An ECV Star may have any or all of the qualities below, but all ECV Stars demonstrate a strength of character guided by integrity and honor and energized by perseverance, determination, grit, and resolve. Courtney Leonard meets all of the criteria of an ECV Star.
She demonstrates a commitment to education and learning both formal and informal. This commitment is consistent with her personal and unique way of learning and using her learning to make a positive impact on the world.
She has a strength-of-character guided by integrity and honor and is energized by perseverance, determination, grit, and resolve.
She provides service to family and community demonstrated by selflessness, empathy, and a willingness to use her unique talents to address social, economic, and cultural inequity.
She has a vision for a better world, acts on that vision, and uses that vision to help others.
Equally inspiring is the fact that Ms. Courtney Leonard shows no sign of slowing down; she is now the Program Director for Every Child Valued. She has recently applied to several graduate schools, leading by example, and showing her students that her inspirational story of great work through perseverance is far from over.