When Tracey Osgood found herself in possession of $1,000 that she could give to any charitable cause she wanted, she had a lot of ideas. Osgood was one of more than 300 people who received a debit card for $1,000 from Oprah Winfrey. On Oct. 30, Winfrey gave her audience members the debit card with the instructions that they must do something good with it, or pay it forward.
She thought of starting a coat drive or of adopting a family, but then she read the October edition of the Freedom High School newsletter.
"When I saw the newsletter I knew what I would do," she said.
IN FREEDOM'S October newsletter, Principal Christine Forester wrote about Linda L. Watts, an English teacher and former department chair during the school's first year, who died from brain cancer Sept. 16. Forester announced that the school was establishing the Linda L. Watts Memorial Scholarship and were accepting donations.
"My daughter was a student of Mrs. Watts," Osgood said. "She was just a great teacher."
Forester said the scholarship was created as a way to honor Watts' memory.
Watts spent less than a year in the Loudoun County school system, leaving after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and lung cancer in March, but Forester said, her influence belied the length of time she was at Freedom.
"She made a phenomenal difference in the school for being here for such a short time," she said. "This is a way to honor the work she did here."
WATTS WAS A teacher in the Clarke County school system for many years before coming to Loudoun County to open Freedom High School. Originally she was only intended to be a teacher in the department, but when hired department chair Clark Hansbarger left to pursue other opportunities, Watts stepped in.
"[Clark] actually recommended her to me," Forester said. "He told me I had to hire her because she was so excellent. She was one of the most experienced teachers on my staff."
Even though she had not expected to be the department chair, Forester said Watts jumped into the job.
"She didn't miss a beat," she said. "And the kids just loved her."
SUZANNE ABDELRAZQ, an English teacher who worked with Watts, said it was Watts' spirit that inspired the other teachers in the department.
"She was an incredibly optimistic woman," Abdelrazaq said. "She improved the mood of everyone she was around."
Abdelrazaq remembered a woman who wore pearls every day, someone who would stand in the doorway of her classroom, forcing the students to walk under her legs.
"She was just a neat lady," she said.
That spirit carried through Watts' illness, Forester said, even as she continued radiation and chemotherapy.
"She always thought she would return [to school], but she never did," Forester said. "She taught us all to live every day. She never gave up her Perrier and chocolate ice cream."
Osgood said it was Watts' dedication to her students that enticed her to give her "Oprah's Challenge" money to the scholarship fund.
"She cared a lot about her students," Osgood said. "She was a great influence on Amanda, my daughter. She inspired her to take an A.P. English class this year. She gave her the confidence to do it."
Osgood said one of her most memorable moments with Watts was a day when she was just pulling away from the school and she saw the teacher running toward her car.
"She chased me down just to tell me how well Amanda was doing in class," Osgood said.
HOPING TO PASS on Watts' love of teaching, the scholarship will be available for any graduating senior who plans to go into teaching. While no further criteria for the scholarship have been set, Forester said she hopes to be able to leave it open-ended.
"I think this is something that should be open to anyone who has the passion to teach," she said.
Until the time comes to give out the first scholarship, however, Forester and Freedom's staff will be focusing on collecting money, something that has been kick started by Osgood's donation.
The morning of Nov. 3, Osgood presented her $1,000 to Forester, some of Freedom's staff and members of Watts' family. She filmed the presentation on a camcorder given to the audience by Winfrey to document their donations.
On Nov. 21, Osgood will attend Winfrey's follow-up show, but, although she said she does not know what will happen with her tape, she is glad she was able to do something good with her money.
"I wanted to do something with the money that I had ties to," she said. "And with three kids in the school system, I thought this was a good way."