Christopher Columbus Coin Image

Freida J. Riley Teacher Award 2006

$10,000 Freida J. Riley Teacher Award Columbus Scholar
James C. Hughes

The recipient of the seventh annual Freida J. Riley Teacher Award is James C. Hughes, an 11th grade teacher of United States History, Humanities 11 and Advanced Placement U.S. History at Farmingdale High School, Farmingdale, NY. Blind since the age of three from a hereditary form of glaucoma, Jim was fortunate to have a mentor during his formative years, his older brother, Joey, who also had the disease. Joey’s untimely death at the age of 23, when Jim was just 16, spurred a determination and drive in Jim to use the lessons Joey taught him--accept the challenges, keep fighting and never use his disability as an excuse.

Originally, Jim was discouraged by his college student-teacher placement coordinator from pursuing a teaching career in a regular school setting. He was encouraged to only consider working with blind children. However, Jim proved he lived beyond his disability. Eventually winning the approval of his coordinator, Jim completed his student teaching in a “regular” school environment, and subsequently was hired as a teacher in a public school.

His love of history led to his choice of discipline; and his commitment to his students has broadened his impact on his school and community. Regardless of whether his students are ‘at risk’ or advanced placement, his goal of having an impact on young people has been more than realized. He gives his students hope for their future despite whatever challenges they might face, teaching that obstacles create opportunities for growth, perseverance and success.

Jim has a special rapport with his students. Being blind enables him to treat all students equally; he cannot judge them based on appearances. He makes his students so comfortable with his disability, that they sometimes forget that he is blind. They don’t see or treat Mr. Hughes differently because he is blind; they accept him for who he is.

Jim said, “I absolutely love teaching young people; I am at home in the classroom. Blindness helps me to connect to students on a different level. If my ability to overcome challenges has given at least one of my students the courage to overcome his/her own obstacles, then I am grateful for being blind. My disability has been an asset in teaching; and since that is my niche, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Jim is married to Diana, and has a daughter Sara, who has also been diagnosed with glaucoma. The Hughes' welcomed the birth of a son in May.

The Freida J. Riley Teacher Award was written, developed and is administered by the National Museum of Education,™ and is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation. Mr. Hughes received the award at an awards luncheon on May 4 in Clarksburg, West Virginia.