At every Community Christmas, Brianna Beard turns into one tall elf.
She’ll slip into gray leggings and a red and green costume made of felt, board a bus, look over her shoulder and see herself on a TV screen in all her Christmas glory.
On a video, she recites a poem she wrote about Community Christmas. She no longer is Beard, the future teacher. She is Brianna, the Bus Elf.
The many people on the bus recognize her. A few even have questions. But not the little red-haired girl in a Santa dress.
“That’s you!” the girl exclaims.
“Yes, it is,” says Beard, leaning down. “Hello. Merry Christmas.”
Beard, a junior from Fairfield, Connecticut, is more than a talented elf the past two years at Community Christmas. She has been selected as HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for April.
To understand why, start first with the Circle of Sisterhood.
The Why of Fighting Inequity
The Circle of Sisterhood is a non-profit that focuses on raising money to help educate and uplift women in Third World countries worldwide. Beard believes in those ideals.
She is a member of the Phi Mu sorority, the vice president of philanthropy for HPU’s Greek community and the campus representative for the non-profit. She wants to help raise money for women who need help.
Ask her why, and she’ll talk about her faith. Prod her further, and she’ll emphasize her angst over inequity.
“When half the population in the world are women, and they’re not getting the same opportunities as men, it is not OK,” she says. “It just isn’t.”
Beard doesn’t stop there.
“It doesn’t make much sense to me to let someone else do it,” she continues. “I want to be part of the effort. I want to open up women to opportunities so they can reach their potential.
“That is something I want to do for everyone, particularly for little kids. School is their world.”
School is Beard’s world, too.
She is an elementary education major, and this summer, she will teach this summer in France and Spain. This fall, when she returns to HPU, she will start her work toward obtaining her master’s degree in elementary education, focusing on science and math, engineering and technology.
Since third grade, Beard has always wanted to be a teacher.
A broken leg helped her discover that.
‘I Can Do Great Things Here’
It was August 2005, and Beard was crushed.
She broke her right leg while jumping on a trampoline with friends less than a month before she entered the third grade at McKinley Elementary.
On her first day at McKinley, she entered school in a wheelchair. She worried she’d become invisible, unable to learn and unable to become friends with any of her classmates.
Enter Scott Bannon, her teacher.
He already had rearranged his classroom to accommodate Beard’s wheelchair, and he assigned his students to be with Beard on the playground and on the elevator going to and from their second-floor classroom.
Beard, who was 8 at the time, realized what she wanted to do when she grew up: Be like Bannon.
He made her feel like she belonged, like she mattered.
She felt the same way when she first came to HPU.
Beard heard about HPU through her good friend Nicole LaFlamme, now an HPU senior. They met in their church’s youth group in high school. LaFlamme loved HPU, and Beard loved seeing her friend’s HPU photos online. So, while touring colleges, Beard came to see for herself.
Beard stopped by the Stout School of Education to see the facilities. She ended up spending 45 minutes with Dr. Mariann Tillery, the school’s dean.
Beard didn’t have an appointment. Dr. Tillery gave her the time — and Dr. Tillery didn’t even know her.
“If they are going to treat me with such care and attention as only a prospective admitted student,” she thought, “imagine what it’s going to be like once I’m a student.”
So, as she sat near the windows during lunch at the Farmer’s Market in the Wanek Center, she looked out over campus and began to dream.
“I can be happy here,” she told her parents. “I can do great things here.”
Beard’s belief came true.
She came in as a Presidential Scholar, started in HPU’s Honors Scholar Program and excelled enough in the classroom to become a member of two honor societies, Alpha Lambda Delta and Kappa Delta Pi.
She’s now the president of the Odyssey Club, the social organization of HPU’s Honors Scholar Program, and she can pull up on her iPhone all the events this month scheduled for the group’s field day.
That includes water balloon fights and a three-legged race.
Then there is her trip last month to Las Vegas. That really changed everything.
The Mentorship of Dr. D
Beard flew to Las Vegas with Dr. Shirley Disseler, one of her professors, and she presented her research and her paper at the annual conference of the National Social Science Association.
The paper’s title is a mouthful: “A Comparative Analysis of Teaching Cultural Core Beliefs Across Settings in Public Education Pre-K Through Fifth Grade.”
But her paper didn’t go unnoticed.
She was recognized as having the best undergraduate paper at the conference. Her 13-page paper will now be published later this year in the association’s national journal.
That happened, thanks to Dr. Disseler. Beard calls her Dr. D.
“I didn’t think it was accessible in my life to get published in a national journal at 21, but things aren’t out of reach, especially here,” Beard says. “Dr. D pushed me toward that, and that all shows me that I was right when I chose this school.
“I bet on this school, and it has made me so happy.”