Ben Runkel

When I went to college and people asked me where I was from, I always said Charlotte, North Carolina. I would feel slightly guilty afterwards, because this technically wasn’t true – I grew up in Waxhaw, North Carolina, a town centered directly on the border of the Carolinas about thirty minutes from the city. But nobody would know Waxhaw, so it was just easier to say Charlotte. This guilt was stronger than ever when I moved to Charlotte two years ago. I saw parts of town I never knew existed: Plaza Midwood, Chantilly, Dilworth, Hidden Valley, Cherry. I had been claiming Charlotte as my own while knowing very little about it.

I took my first steps towards learning more about this city and pursuing my passion for education by joining Citizen Schools. For the past two years, I taught a supplementary English class and connected students with members of the community they would otherwise not encounter. This spring, I helped secure a partnership with Discovery Place Education Studio, and co-led a class where 20 middle school students built four 3D printers. This year, I will begin my first year as a full-time 6th grade social studies teacher at Eastway Middle School.

My personal contribution to the education of Charlotte students has been impactful yet narrow; I’ve only worked at two schools, and my scope was limited to a pool of students who elected to be a part of our program. I saw firsthand through Citizen Schools that, through non-traditional learning programs, there were opportunities to bridge the educational opportunity gap that exists. Joining Charlotte Shapers would provide a platform to reach more students, families and schools.

I want to continue what I was doing at Citizen Schools: empower students by offering additional formal and informal learning opportunities. I want to connect Charlotte Shapers and other community members with students through afterschool classes that are focused on developing non-traditional abilities and soft skills. In addition, since last February, I’ve been involved with a group called Charlotte Storytellers that meets once a week to share stories. Now that I have my own classroom, I’ll be able to run an afterschool storytelling group for students, where they can workshop and perform their own personal stories.

I still have much to learn about this city, and I know that the Charlotte Shapers community is diverse in personal experience, identity, and expertise. I want to contribute my growing understanding of education in this city, while learning more about how it intersects with other facets of the community. When I chose to work in the field of education, I knew that this commitment went beyond the classroom. For me, this means learning about, contributing to, and most importantly, staying in Charlotte. The students and communities I work with need and deserve that kind of care. I don’t plan on leaving this city, and I am committed to improving what needs to be improved and preserving what deserves to be preserved.