Marvin Childress was working in advertising before becoming a teacher in Oak Park’s District 97 elementary schools.
His clients included national companies like Volkswagen and Sprite. But it was his work for a video game producer that led to his change of careers. Childress, who’s also a writer, was asked to come up with dialogue for characters in one of the firm’s games. His last ever client was a video game company that was developing one of those “urban” street fighting games. Childress at first declined.
“My wife asked me: ‘How are you going to explain to your son that you’re making a game that we wouldn’t allow him to play?’ That hit me like a ton of bricks,” Childress said.
He recalled that the company offered him some creative oversight. Childress still declined. Childress said they then offered him full creative control. He accepted.
“They had guys wearing gold chains, running around beating people with pipes. I suggested some changes and submitted them to the company. When it came out, it didn’t have any of the changes I suggested. It was then that I made a moral decision and walked away,” Childress said.
He ended up going back to school to get a master’s degree in order to pursue teaching. Now in his fifth year at Lincoln School, 1111 S. Grove Ave., teaching first-graders, Childress, a married father of three, has been nominated for a Golden Apple Award, which honors outstanding Chicago-area teachers.
He’s one of three D97 nominees this year, a rarity for the Oak Park elementary school district, although it isn’t unusual that the district garners two nominees in a given year. The other nominees this year are Elizabeth Chase Vivas, a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln, and Cristina Arroyo, a kindergarten teacher at Irving School, 1125 S. Cuyler. Childress has never been nominated before.
Nominations are made anonymously by individuals in that teacher’s district. Childress was notified by mail two weeks ago by the Golden Apple Foundation. He was surprised and pleased by the nomination.
The winners won’t be announced until next spring during a surprise classroom visit. D97 has, over the years, had seven teachers win a Golden Apple, and has had 10 nominations since the last winner, Sandy Noel, a renowned health educator and retired PE teacher, in 2006.
Childress was a substitute instructor and then a teaching assistant in D97 before becoming a full-time teacher in 2007. He did his student teaching assignment at Lincoln where he was mentored by veteran teachers and Principal Catherine Hamilton. Childress praises his mentors for helping him in the beginning.
Teaching also runs deep in his family. His mother, Sandra (Sandi) Adams, taught in D97 at Lincoln School for 32 years before retiring in 2003. She was the first African American teacher ever hired at Lincoln.
“My mom is a legend in Oak Park,” he said.
She met her husband, Profit Adams, Childress’ step dad and a former D97 custodian, while both were working at Lincoln. They were married for 28 years. Mr. Adams died in 2003. Since retiring, Childress’ mom has been living with him and his wife, Erica, who teaches at Beye School, and their three kids.
His son, Javonte Childress, attends Oak Park and River Forest High School and is a talented stage performer. He was involved in the BRAVO program at Brooks Middle School and is a member of the high school’s performing arts program. In 2009, Javonte played Emmett Till in an OPRF production about Till’s life—he was killed in 1955 by two white men in Mississippi. His death, historians note, helped spur the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and ’60s.
Till, a Chicago native, was also a childhood friend of Javonte’s grandfather, Marvin Childress Sr.—the two friends grew up on the city’s South Side.
Childress, himself a South Side native, went to school in Oak Park, attending Longfellow and then Hawthorne Middle School (now Julian). He graduated from OPRF in the 1990s. He recalled family and friends over the years encouraging him to become a teacher. Though he continues to write, Childress insists he’s found his calling.
“I never felt this fulfilled in advertising,” he said. “I see myself retiring as a teacher. This is it. I’m not looking for any career change.”