George Daka is always asked the same handful of questions. Why aren’t you married? Don’t you want children? What about a dog?
For Daka, all of those things sound nice. But they’re simply not at the top of his priority list. Instead, the Croydon resident has dedicated himself to his career as a history teacher at Bensalem High School, where he creatively works to inspire and support students on a daily basis.
Throughout Daka’s 20-year tenure, his efforts have paid off tenfold, with the educator earning recognition beyond Bucks County. In 2019, he was the recipient of the National Liberty Museum Teacher as Hero Award.
Recently, it was announced Daka will receive yet another recognition – a Freedoms Foundation National Award in the form of a George Washington Honor Medal for Educator at the Valley Forge Chapter’s fourth annual Local Heroes Awards Gala, set for Feb. 29, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Freedoms Foundation, 1601 Valley Forge Road, Phoenixville.
“To be recognized by such an organization, for a history teacher, is the next rung above,” Daka said. “The historical significance of Valley Forge and everything that Valley Forge pretty much stands for, in essence, defending the principles of freedom, is one of the main objectives in just about every history class that I’ve tried to emphasize.”
Daka, who teaches AP Government and Politics, an elective course called 21st Century and the Gifted 9th Grade World Cultures course, and is the president-elect for the Bensalem Teachers Association, explained the application process was through self-nomination. He never expected to be selected, but decided to give it a shot.
Each year, the Valley Forge Chapter of Freedoms Foundation honors outstanding individuals and other nonprofit organizations that exemplify what the foundation tries to instill within younger generations. Those chosen have shown acts of heroism, kindness and respect for others by going above and beyond their civic duties.
Specifically, the George Washington Honor Medal Award honors teachers and administrators who go above and beyond the call of duty for their students and America’s youth. These educators also instill in their students a sense of the importance of community involvement, responsible citizenship and patriotism.
This criteria is certainly true of Daka, who is constantly seeking fresh ways to educate local teens beyond the textbook. Examples include bringing in guest speakers such as Sen. Tommy Tomlinson; traveling to Harry S. Truman High School to participate in an event about gerrymandering; and hosting weekend tours to the Art Museum of Philadelphia, Independence Hall and other historic spots.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to look at any kind of real-life experience or connection with history, or connection with the essence of, what does it mean to be an American? What does it mean to have liberty?” Daka said. “Student success is not just whether we’re looking at AP testing or grades, but also taking away history. Taking away something meaningful. In my opinion, one of the biggest things I’d like them to take away is that sense of liberty and how we can retain liberty. Liberty all comes down to the individual, whether we’re looking at an election or whether we’re looking at something locally.”
Ultimately, Daka’s goal is to help students learn from the past by directly relating it to their own lives…all with a sense of humor.
“I start each day painting pictures that illustrate how the topic is meaningful to today,” he said. “In my experience, nothing grabs the student’s interest like pointing out not only human folly, but also how, to varying degrees, history repeats itself.”
Additionally, Daka regularly dedicates his own time and money to attending summer institutes at locations such as Mount Vernon and Valley Forge. While friends joke that he’s never home, that’s perfectly OK with Daka – he’s able to strengthen his excitement about history, and return to the classroom with more knowledge than ever.
According to Daka, a quote from Thomas Jefferson often drives his actions – “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They’re the only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty.”
“At the end of the day, I think that’s really what we’re talking about, is to educate and inform,” Daka said. “And if we have that, those are two keys to liberty, to freedom, kids being successful, whether they choose to go to college, whether they choose to go into the workforce, whether they choose to go into business. It really boils down to that idea to educate and inform the whole.”
Visit freedomsfoundation.org/awards/awards-programs for more about the George Washington Honor Medal.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com