Azusa Pacific University’s School of Education provides students with the tools to create the best possible educational experiences for their own future students. APU students experience training that goes beyond the confines of their classroom to include everyday involvement in the lives of their students and in their community at large. As a way of fostering this level of high-quality teacher training, APU’s School of Education and San Diego Regional Center proudly sponsor the “Teachers are Heroes” program, which is dedicated to recognizing teachers in San Diego County who are deeply involved in their students’ lives outside of the classroom.
The program began in 2001 when APU partnered with Radio Stations FM 94.9, Smooth Jazz FM 98.1, and KSON-FM 97.3 and 92.1. Currently, the program runs throughout the year while the three radio station partners promote it on the air. Each month, students and parents can log on to each radio station’s website and nominate the heroic teacher in his or her life. The winning nominee of the month receives a surprise visit and award from San Diego Regional Center Director John Burlison, MBA, together with Collene Davidson, national sales manager for the Lincoln Financial Media Company, and Jim Esterbrooks, media relations manager for the San Diego County Office of Education. Each winning nominee also receives numerous prizes, including a plaque and a classroom party. Then, each June, the nominees and their classes are invited to a private celebration at Legoland in Carlsbad, California, where a grand prize winner is selected from among the twelve nominees.
“Especially now,” Burlison said, “during the ‘No Child Left Behind’ era, teachers are required to do so much more for their students. This [program] is an opportunity to thank teachers for what they do for our children.” Good teachers are invaluable to a child’s education, and APU enjoys the opportunity to recognize the work it takes to become a teacher worthy of distinction.
According to Debbie Blair, 2008-2009 award recipient and second grade teacher at Literacy First Charter School, the honor of the award lies not in one’s own achievements but in being appreciated and acknowledged by students and their families. “Receiving the award in front of the kids and their parents made the award extra special,” she said.
Award recipients understand how to connect with and motivate their students. Blair takes great care to intentionally bond with her students, stating, “My job for the first few weeks of school is to fall in love with my kids; they won’t give me their best if they don’t love me.” Kristen Merghart, 2008-2009 recipient from Clearview Charter Elementary, says that her passion for teaching actually originated from an outstanding teacher in her past. “My own first grade teacher is my mentor and the reason I became a teacher. I will always remember something she said to me: ‘A child may not always remember what you taught them or what you said to them. But they will always remember the way you make them feel.’ I am thrilled to know that I am now living that saying!”
The program has enjoyed success since its beginning, and Burlison comments that APU “looks forward to doing this [program] for many years to come.” He represented APU, along with Gail Hougton, Ph.D., assistant dean of the School of Education, at the final celebration for the teacher nominees on June 6, 2009 at Legoland.