Warrior Words: Uncle Chip

High school is a time saturated with across-the-board emotions — the high points and the low points are all concentrated and amplified within the narrow hallways of adolescence. Within the everyday antics of social interactions and college applications we often overlook the unspoken heroes of Wilton High School — the teachers. One teacher, whom I have had the pleasure of having as my WHS advisor, encapsulates the true meaning behind the word “educator.” Known by our 13-student advisory as “Uncle Chip,” Frank Gawle is a veteran WHS teacher as well as a former administrator. He has dedicated his life to the WHS family, and comes in to work each day ready to instill in students an appreciation for art and music, and an understanding of what it means to be a good person, and all while cultivating a love for learning. Those are the marks of a true educator.  

Our group of advisees looks forward each week to our 30-minute block with Uncle Chip. To us, it is time to decompress, a time to air any complaints about school or stress, and a time to feel truly listened to and heard. Mr. Gawle ends each advisory by wishing us well on the rest of our week and signing off with his catch phrase, “All right, guys, peace and love!” Between stress-filled days of testing, busywork, extracurriculars, and social drama, one class of advisory can turn the whole day around.         

Mr. Gawle’s accomplishments and unparalleled contributions to the WHS music community have been recently highlighted in our local news, as he was one of 10 finalists for the Grammy Music Educator Award. His decades of hard work for the betterment of students finally landed him these well-deserved moments in the spotlight. And, of course, he insists his journey to this point has been far from a solo effort. When asked about his Grammy nomination and status as a finalist, Mr. Gawle immediately credits his colleague, Mr. John Rhodes, with whom he shares in the success of the WHS music program. Mr. Gawle’s love for educating young people is unfailing. Uncle Chip inspires his colleagues, his students (and his advisory) to be kinder, more grateful, and more thoughtful people. Dr. Harvey, a beloved English teacher at WHS, describes the genuine impact Mr. Gawle has had on his WHS colleagues. Mr. Gawle “informs my teaching every single day,” according to Harvey. She offered a brief anecdote that truly encapsulated the spirit of Mr. Gawle at Wilton High School: “At one point he and I were in the Xerox room together, and he said something that I think about every single day of my teaching life. He said, ‘We teach children first, content second,’ and that sums him up completely. He never loses sight of the fact that the essence of our jobs as teachers is to raise children to be the best that they can be.” Furthermore, his students in the band see Uncle Chip as a musical mentor, and many see his profound influence in their lives. WHS senior Elliot Connors describes Mr. Gawle as “a father, friend, and mentor” and “attribute[s] much of who [he is] as a musician and person to Mr. Gawle.” Connors adds that Mr. Gawle’s “passion for his students and his career has inspired me to pursue what I love.” I know, because of him, I am a better person, and there is no one who deserves more the recognition for his years of educating and inspiring students.

At a recent band concert, Mr. Gawle announced his official retirement from his position as WHS band director. In a lot of ways, Mr. Gawle is like a WHS senior. He is excited for the upcoming phase of his life, but is also relishing every day in the moments of the present with beloved friends, colleagues, and students. For me, Uncle Chip is an honorary member of the Class of 2016.

Grace Kelleher is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.