PBU alumnus Stephen Charles “Charlie” Dunn ’05 was named the 2011-2012 New Jersey Charter School Teacher of the Year at the NJ Charter Schools Association Annual Conference in Atlantic City at the end of March.
Charlie is the lead teacher and chair of his department at Pride Academy Charter School in East Orange, NJ, teaching eighth grade language arts and literacy. He joined the staff at Pride a week after the school opened in September 2008. As an urban school with many low-income students, Pride Academy has struggled on standardized tests, but Charlie has been able to watch his students’ work improve, with a higher percentage of the eighth graders advancing with proficiency on the state-mandated tests. Pride Academy recently was awarded an Epic Grant from New Leaders for having among the best value-added score increases in the network.
Following his graduation from PBU’s Secondary Education English program, Charlie pursued a Masters of Liberal Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. “I loved the opportunity to cut my philosophical and literary chops at an Ivy League school and to walk away knowing that the modes of thought I had learned at PBU were up to the challenge,” he says. “My studies there got me thinking more and more about education and I began to see God calling me to put into practice all of the things that I had learned.”
The Lord opened the opportunity for Charlie to teach at Pride after he had been job hunting for seven months. “I was very nervous about looking for a job and spent a lot of time praying and asking God to put the opportunity I needed in front of me,” he says of the process. “I knew I was shy and ill-prepared for the job-hunting process, so I contented myself to know that God would be faithful to present me with the opportunities I needed, and he would lead me through one step at a time. I had to rely on Christ for strength at every step, even to have the confidence to call back a potential interview.”
Charlie describes the first few months of that school year as the longest and hardest of his life: “It was a furnace, and only by God’s grace am I still alive and teaching. Four years later I am teaching eighth grade Language Arts and Literacy (LAL) and am in my first year of being head of the LAL department at Pride Academy. Our school has thrived in one of the most impoverished and violent regions of NJ. It has been such a blessing to watch our students grow and develop into leaders in their community, and I have enjoyed teaching at a school that is as interested in the character of its students as the quality of the academics.”
Charlie looks back at his time at PBU as the foundation of his teaching experience. While studying Secondary English Education, he was mentored by Dr. Jean Minto and Professor Patti Rahn, who impacted him both inside and outside of the classroom. “In my literature classes, my professors helped me learn to discuss, analyze, evaluate, and learn from the classic works of English literature. They also helped me to question what these works meant for the student who approaches literature from a Christian perspective. They were modeling for me one of the most important teaching skills I now know. That is, they challenged me to think for myself and questioned the weak points in my arguments, leading me to stronger and better supported positions.”
“In terms of professional preparation, one of the most influential classes I took was Philosophy of Education with Dr. Marti MacCullough. Dr. MacCullough showed me how to ground everything I do in a solid biblical worldview. She also challenged us to question every practice on these terms, questioning whether or not our methodology gelled with our philosophy. To this day the most important question we can ask as educators is, ‘Why? What is the purpose?’” says Dunn. “In terms of the Bible courses, I can’t say enough. My Bible professors taught me how to read my Bible. That’s probably the most valuable piece of education I have ever received.”
Charlie looks back at his time at PBU and talks about the value of the whole environment to his spiritual and academic development. “I realized during my sophomore year that a prospering university thrives on and even requires diversity of thought and that I was going to become stronger as a thinker and as a Christian if I surrounded myself with people of differing viewpoints from my own and strived to learn from them,” he says. “I was honored to be a part of a community of men for four years playing soccer that I miss more than anything else about PBU. Soccer was about giving your all for your brothers, knowing your duty to your team, and about witnessing to others through a testimony of discipline, organization, and excellence. PBU taught me what I know, the soccer team made me who I am.”
Charlie has been married to his wife Andrea (Besch x’02) for four years. They attend Redeemer Hoboken, a church plant of Redeemer New York. They enjoy the community of urban life and are looking into getting involved with a church plant in Jersey City. “We have recently found that the dog park is one of the most accessible and best mission fields on earth, and our dog Scout has led to more than one fruitful conversation about faith and life in the City,” says Charlie. “PBU has prepared us in all of this by equipping us to meet every aspect of life with the mind and heart of Christ, and we can’t be more thankful for all that God has done for us and through us.”
In March 2023, Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced the Compassionate Aid in Dying bill (HB543/SB816). The bill is modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which has largely set the framework, in