"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." - Fred Rogers
Dr. Dana Winters, executive director for the Fred Rogers Institute, visited Katherine Johnson Middle School on Thursday to present science teacher Eric Haapapuro, also known as "Mr. H" in the halls, with its inaugural Helper Award.
Informed and inspired by the legacy of Fred Rogers, the Fred Rogers Institute Helper Awards honor and recognize the individuals who care for children and communities in ordinary and extraordinary ways in their daily and professional lives. The Fred Rogers Institute has a 20-year history of looking for the helpers, respecting the unique and essential contributions they make to children’s lives, and supporting and uplifting their work. The awards were launched in 2023 in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Institute, in memory of Fred Rogers, and in thanks to the individuals we all look to as “helpers.”
Haapapuro is a science teacher at KJMS after a long career in public service. He is a tactical certified EMT, a former police officer, and a pilot, and he recently retired from 23 years of federal service with the U.S. Park Police. Early in his career he graduated from the U.S. Park Police Academy and worked in Washington, D.C. for many years. He was directly across from the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 and was responsible for keeping citizens in the area safe and calm. He moved into the Aviation unit of the U.S. Park Police and became a Rescue Technician and Paramedic, providing life-saving medical treatment to trauma patients and rescuing injured hikers by helicopter in national parks. Before his retirement from service, he earned his teaching certificate to become a middle school teacher. He started in the classroom on a Monday after his Friday retirement, and now teaches science at Katherine Johnson Middle School. Eric taught himself Spanish to be able to communicate with all students and keeps healthy snacks in his classroom so that students facing food insecurities can easily stop in to grab a snack.
Receiving the award, Eric remembers watching Mr. Rogers and realized it was where he felt safe. “I didn’t realize I wanted to be a helper until I helped people,” he said. “That is what teachers do, we make kids feel safe.”