Originally Published: April 26, 2015 12:38 a.m.
PRESCOTT - The night was all about "awesomeness' in education, awesome students and awesome teachers bringing out the "awesomeness' in each other so as to bring awesome to the world.
And the most awesome award of the special evening - Yavapai County Teacher of the Year - was awarded to Larnell Sawyer, a Chino Valley native who teaches kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School in Prescott.
On Friday night, April 24, the Prescott Resort Center ballroom was crowded full of some 375 awesome educational leaders and supporters all eager to honor 51 awesome educators who every day seek to bring their own brand of "awesomeness' to their classrooms. Their enthusiasm for teaching and learning is contagious as their own students told stories of how these teachers inspire them to find their own "awesomeness.'
The "awesomeness' word was unleashed to much applause in a video of Yavapai County Teacher of the Year finalist Jocelyn Paris, a Granite Mountain Middle School science teacher in Prescott who was the winner in the 6th to 8th grade category, one of five categories of teachers eligible to be chosen for the top prize.
As the overall winner on what all would agree was an awesome night, Sawyer said she was both humbled and honored by the nomination of her peers, administrators and school leaders.
Students of all the finalists videotaped about why they felt their particular teacher deserved this honor.
Sawyer's students were clear that to them she will always be the most awesome teacher.
"I think she's already a winner,' one of the students declared in the finalist video presentation.
The awards ceremony included video clips for each of the finalists, with groups of students sharing what makes that teacher special to them and the teacher speaking about what they consider to be an "exceptional' teacher and how they try and live up to that description.
Some of the teachers' words about what it takes to make a difference: patience, persistence, curiosity, love, kindness, generosity, determination, and "awesomeness.'
The Foundation's Teacher of the Year Committee Chairman Cindy Daniels said this night of appreciation is intended to embolden those who against the odds of adversity and limited reward see the promise of the future in the faces of every child who walks through their classroom door.
"You, dear teachers, are more than a number, or a test score,' Daniels said after reading aloud a letter penned by a Texas teacher to her students. "In the face of great challenges, the people in this room have excelled and inspire ...To you we are grateful. You are valuable.'
The first award of the evening was presented to a retired educator who for 18 years was the schools superintendent in Chino Valley, Dr. Ronald Minnich. Minnich grew up in Ohio and then served with distinction in the U.S. Army, earning a Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross, before becoming a teacher. He then advanced into administration and at the end of his career was the director of teacher education at Yavapai College.
The evening of accolades started with awarding a Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Ronald Minnich, a now-retired educator who for 18 years was the schools superintendent in Chino Valley before he went on to be a college professor, including a five-year stint as director of teacher education at Yavapai College. The 2014 Teacher of the Year winner Sonny Martin of Ash Fork High School hailed the finalists for their willingness to risk the premier rollercoaster ride of a lifetime, one the best refuse to get off.
Then came the moment all awaited. A screen covered with a black cloth was lifted to reveal Sawyer's name as the top honoree, an award with prizes that included a $1,500 cash award and school banner.
Humble in her acceptance, Sawyer praised her peers and voiced gratitude to be able to live her passion.
"I'm just so honored because I so love my job. The kids so inspire me,' she concluded.
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