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11:22 AM Tue, Sept. 18th

A Reward for EXCELLENCE

Courier/Les Stukenberg

Miller Valley Elementary School second-grade teacher Kris Foster listens as one of her students tells her about his experience with a crawdad. Pictured along with Foster are students Cody Carey, left, Caterina DeLeon, right, and Noah Henen, with back to camera.

Courier/Les Stukenberg Miller Valley Elementary School second-grade teacher Kris Foster listens as one of her students tells her about his experience with a crawdad. Pictured along with Foster are students Cody Carey, left, Caterina DeLeon, right, and Noah Henen, with back to camera.

PRESCOTT ­ According to her students, Kris Foster is many things; among them nice, kind and respectful.

The Yavapai County Education Foundation this past Friday honored Foster, a second-grade teacher at Miller Valley Elementary School, with the Yavapai County Teacher of the Year award ­ and Kindergarten Through Third-grade Teacher of the Year award ­ for 2006.

The Foundation gave several other county teachers various awards.

"She is fun," Alyssa Luna said of Foster. "She teaches us many stuff that we haven't learned before and she helps us with our problems."

Gaige Perry said, "She helps us with a lot of our work," and Emily Hortareas said, "I like her because she's really nice to me and she respects us. Also, she's the best teacher I've ever had."

"I'm glad she won," said Mackenzie Graham. "I feel like she's the best teacher. She doesn't yell at other people a lot. She's special and nice and kind. She's a lot of things."

For 27 years, Foster has taught children in Arizona. She taught high school special education, elementary special education and first grade before landing at Miller Valley, where she's taught second and third grades for the past 18 years.

"This is a great job," she said during an interview this week. "I get so much given back to me. I give a lot of myself but I get a lot in return."

She "never expected such an honor," but said she was happy to take a part in bringing honor to Miller Valley Elementary.

Incorporating music, acting and singing into her lesson plans, Foster said she strives to keep education interesting and, therefore, to keep children engaged.

"I want to keep them wanting to come to school every day," she said.

Foster said she enjoys spending the time she does with children and also being able to express her own teaching style.

"We have standards," she said, "and as teachers, we're given the ability to teach those in a way that goes along with our own teaching skills."

Marcia Gatti, co-chair of the Foundation's Teacher of the Year Award Committee, said each school site nominates teachers for each of the various Teacher of the Year categories. Categories include first-year, K-3, 4-8, cross-grades and high school teachers of the year.

Foster said that peer nomination meant a lot to her.

"This is the best staff in the world to work with," she said. "We all know we're putting our heart and soul into it. We help each other, encourage each other and support each other."

Once a site had nominated teachers, Gatti said, a reading committee for each category gathered to read applications the nominees submitted. Committees chose the top three candidates and an interview committee then interviewed those finalists to choose the winner and runner-up from each category.

So many people volunteer to help select the winners, Gatti said, adding, "It's apparent to everyone that this is a great place to educate children."

A couple of years ago, one of Foster's former second grade students came in as a high school senior to mentor one of her current students. One day, he brought in a penguin Foster had made for students when he was in second grade.

She'd allowed them to take the penguins home only if what they wrote a letter demonstrating they could provide a good home for the penguins. The then-senior said his penguin had been living in his freezer since he was in second grade.

Of that story, Foster said, "I think those things indicate I have good relationships with my students."

Contact the reporter at hdartt@prescottaz.com