Education grad finds her calling in advocating for students

5 – minute read

When Madison Franz was a young girl, she enjoyed being the teacher in a pretend school she set up. She’d command her dog to sit at attention and serve as a student in her class. Her childhood best friend was often the principal.


“I don’t have any teachers in my family — that’s something that surprises a lot of people — but I knew in my soul from a very young age that this was my calling in life,” she says.

When Franz was in high school, she observed her teachers and appreciated their dedication. “This is what I want to do,” she thought even then.


“I distinctly remember going up to my teachers and asking them if there was anything I could do to help them in my spare time,” she says. “I was so thankful to have teachers who saw the spark inside of me and did everything they could to keep it going.”


And now she’s doing the same.

While earning her early childhood education degree in three years at Florida Gulf Coast University, the May College of Education graduate and Hall of Fame inductee maintained a 4.0 GPA, served as president of the student group Eagles Educate and completed research projects to promote play-based learning and culturally responsive teaching. She engaged in over 500 service-learning hours, including organizing a Kindness Rocks initiative for local Title I schools. And as the SWFL March For Our Lives organizer, Franz advocated for gun reform to protect local students and teachers.


After being honored as the 2022 College of Education Student of the Year, she prepared to take on a paid teaching position during her graduating semester through the Student Teacher Advanced Recruitment (STAR) program, a partnership between FGCU and the Lee County School District.


She had a job lined up in Cape Coral, but then came a call Nov. 28 that changed everything. A second-grade class at Heights Elementary School in Harlem Heights lost a teacher who relocated after Hurricane Ian destroyed her house. 

Madison Franz
Madison Franz earned her early childhood education degree in three years at Florida Gulf Coast University.

The unincorporated community in southwest Fort Myers near the Caloosahatchee River was flooded with several feet of water.


Without knowing it, Franz had been preparing her whole life for this opportunity to advocate for people in need. According to U.S. Census data, nearly half the community’s residents and 79% of its children under 18 live below the poverty line.


“I’m a big believer that God and the universe send us the people and places that need us, and even more than that, the people and places that we need — even if we don’t know that we need them,” she says. “I was completely taken aback and wasn’t quite sure if I could handle it at the time, but I’m so glad that I said yes. I remember going into my interview (Nov. 29) and saying, ‘I just feel it in my soul that this is where I need to be.’ They hired me on the spot, and I never looked back.


“My students are special for so many reasons, but they’ve taught me so much about resilience. 

“I’ve had students who have lost their homes in the hurricane, students whose caregivers have lost jobs due to the hurricane, students who have faced significant trauma and loss, and students who truly need someone in their life to believe in them — so much like I needed that person as my younger self.”


That sensibility is part of her DNA. But it was also cultivated at FGCU by faculty like Melissa Meehan, an assistant professor in the College of Education who worked beside Franz as an Eagles Educate co-advisor and her STAR mentor.

Meehan encouraged Franz to keep her students at the center of everything she does and to advocate for a better future. She frequently tells Franz, “When we know better, we do better.”


And now that Franz knows better, she feels responsible for standing up for what is right.


“Madison advocates for her students, and she advocates for herself — even when what she is advocating for may not be popular with others,” Meehan says. “She always prioritizes what is best for kids and what supports them as human beings and learners. She wants to directly give back to her community, and she works hard to ensure that she and her students have what they need.”


Next fall, Franz will continue teaching at Heights Elementary, moving to third grade. That means she’ll teach many of the same students she had for second grade.


“I tell them all the time that once they’ve had me as a teacher, they’re ‘stuck’ with me for life because they’ll always have me there to cheer them on,” she says. “The biggest accomplishment that I could ever hope for is to have students come back to me one day and say, ‘I did the thing that I didn’t think I could do because you believed in me.’ My students and I declare every day, ‘We can do hard things!’ And I hope that they truly take that to heart and go make their mark on the world in the way that only they can.”

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