In 1998, Junior Achievement connected three individuals whose lives have never been the same since. Angela Burmeister, a JA staff member at the time, made presentations about volunteering at Tom Cordova and Todd Campbell’s workplaces. Cordova worked as an information management consultant, while Campbell taught fourth and fifth graders at Heritage Elementary in the Cherry Creek School District.
Those presentations led to two wonderful, long-term partnerships. For Burmeister and Campbell, it was marriage. The couple has two sons, one in high school and one in college. Cordova and Campbell embarked on a 23-year volunteer-teacher partnership.
Cordova recalls asking Burmeister if he could volunteer in his son Victor’s class. Victor loved Campbell’s fourth-grade class, where students could earn points toward an end-of-week celebration. Campbell displayed the earned points on a golden garbage can.
Campbell thrives on finding ways to motivate youths to learn. He realized early on that classroom volunteers inject a sense of newness that students appreciate. And he was eager to have a Junior Achievement volunteer in his new classroom as he’d had good experiences with JA volunteers at other schools.
The financial literacy coursework that JA provides fulfills a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) standard within Cherry Creek schools. But Campbell says having Cordova volunteer with his classes has a more significant impact.
“I love having such a wonderful man like Tom coming in, not only for my students to see, observe, and learn from another person from the public but also for Tom to see the wonderful things that are going on in public schools,” Campbell says.
That first experience went so well that Cordova returned to Campbell’s class the following year when his son was in the fifth grade.
“So, I did both fourth and fifth grade, and from then on, I would get in touch with Todd and ask, ‘Hey, do you want me to come back in and do this again?’ And it just sort of manifested, one year, and then another year, and here we are. Last year was the first year that we missed, and it was because of COVID,” Cordova says.
For five weeks after spring break Cordova typically spends one hour per week in Campbell’s classroom teaching business concepts. This year, he’s teaching JA’s “Our Nation” module remotely. The content covers the consumer/producer free-market economy, building a business, creating a profit, and more.
“He’s very confident in front of the class, and he is always prepared,” says Campbell. “And he does a great job with eye contact and praising the kids.”
Campbell knows about excellent teaching. He’s taught for 33 years in the Cherry Creek School District and garnered the Trails West Elementary School Representative Teacher of the Year Award six years ago. Cordova was proud to attend the award ceremony that celebrated Campbell’s achievement.
“I’m not the hero here; Todd is. I spend five hours a year with his students. He spends 50 hours a week with them. So, I’m just a guy who comes in and tries to help as much as I can,” Cordova says.
When Campbell switched schools—four times since 1998—Cordova went with him. Their friendship has grown through the years. Campbell attended Victor’s law school graduation party. Victor and his classmates still get together to take their favorite elementary teacher to lunch. Cordova says Campbells’ influence on his former students is far-reaching. When Victor struggled to motivate his law firm staff, he implemented the golden garbage can to display earned points. And it works there as well as it did in Campbell’s class.
Campbell describes his relationship with Cordova as “a dear friendship.” “He and I share stories about the trials and tribulations of parenthood. We don’t go out and play tennis every week, but we pick up right where we left off every year,” he says.
Cordova encourages others to volunteer whether or not they have teaching experience or financial expertise. He says Junior Achievement’s easy to follow classroom guidebooks provide all the necessary materials.
“It’s like following a cookbook. You follow the cookbook, but then you add the twists based on your life experiences. You make it your own,” he says.