In the classroom and in uniform, Dan Harrington works to set kids up for success
“It’s very rewarding. I get to see the lightbulb click when kids really understand something,” Harrington said of his students. “I just felt I wanted to make some kind of difference in their lives.”
WORTHINGTON — Teacher, marine, father — Dan Harrington has played many roles in his life, but a constant, it would seem, is giving the next generation the tools they need not only to succeed, but to thrive.
Before becoming a computers and technology teacher in District 518, Harrington served in the Marines. He joined in 1987 and worked in communications, spending five years in Japan. When he left the service at age 28, he entered a career in IT, where he stayed until 2006. It was then that a local Veterans Affairs office reached out and asked if Harrington had any interest in going back to school.
He attended Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and received his bachelor's, and eventually his master's degree in education. He spent several years working as a technology education teacher at Prairie Elementary until the Intermediate School opened its doors, and Harrington switched campuses.
“I wasn’t sure how teaching middle school students would go,” Harrington admitted, “but the kids I have this year, I had at Prairie, so the relationship is already there. I think the kids have been pleased to have me back, which helps a lot when you’re stepping into a whole new environment.”
With five children of his own, Harrington has always enjoyed working with and watching kids learn.
“It’s very rewarding. I get to see the lightbulb click when kids really understand something,” he said of his students. “I just felt I wanted to make some kind of difference in their lives.”
In the STEM class for middle schoolers, Harrington works with students on a coding program. In many assignments, he allows students to develop according to their interests because they’re more invested in their work that way. With coding, the students receive immediate feedback on what works and what doesn’t, he says, and failing is just as much a learning opportunity as getting something right.
“I don’t know what happens as adults, but I think we lose this, but kids are always looking at new ways to learn something,” Harrington said. “As much as I teach them, they’re teaching me too, and then I get to go and share that with other students.”
While Harrington enjoys his work inside the classroom, after his own kids grew up and moved on, he began looking for a new purpose. Around that time, he helped get a Marine Corps Detachment started locally to serve former Marines, Navy and other veterans.
“During that process of getting that set up, I learned about the Young Marines,” Harrington said. He imagined a sort of boot camp for kids, or a marine recruitment program. “But it wasn’t that at all. In the Marine Corps, we learned about honor and integrity and discipline, and had to better ourselves and become better citizens. And that's what Young Marines is all about — it's passing those traits on to the kids and helping them develop into better leaders and citizens.”
Three years ago, the Buffalo Ridge Young Marines was started. Since then, Harrington says they've had about 20 kids, ages 10 to 17, involved in the program. Currently, the local group has 10 Young Marines. Several have retired once they the reached age 18, but stay involved as alumni and adult volunteers.
“We don’t push the military at all,” Harrington said, adding that only about 30% of Young Marines end up joining the service. “Our focus is teaching them how to serve their communities.... We ask for 50 hours of community service a year through different opportunities, and we're always looking for more.”
Through the Young Marines, kids can participate in Drug Demand Reduction, which focuses on peer education on the dangers of drug use. They learn to speak in public; they sit and talk with veterans, and participate in flag presentations and marches.
But, one of the Young Marines' favorite activities, Harrington says, is their involvement with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. Having wrapped up a fourth campaign this year, the Young Marines help with the collection and distribution of toys during the holiday season, which then go to kids whose families might not otherwise be able to afford presents.
This past year, the Nobles County Toys for Tots program provided toys for approximately 1,200 children, and next year, Harrington said, there are plans to include Jackson County as well.
“The Young Marines just love it, and there’s so many people who volunteer. Without our boots on the ground, this wouldn’t happen,” he said. “In three or four years, if all of this should go away, just the idea of all those kids we made a difference for, gives a lot of hope.”
Harrington was nominated for The Globe's Community Pride project by Michael Merren, who said, "Supporting the success of Worthington youth is something that has been a cornerstone for Daniel Harrington since joining the Worthington school district as an educator in 2012. As a technology teacher he has provided incite on how technology can be a valuable resource to help students succeed in both their academics and lives outside of the classroom.
"Having served in the United States Marine Corps from 1987 thru 1992, he understands how leadership, honor, courage, commitment and hard work are the cornerstones for success in life and is able to bring that knowledge to the classroom."