Five outstanding educators received top honors for their commitment to children's literacy during the 2016 "Read On" Teacher Salute Award ceremony at the L.A. Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California.
"Teachers, as you know, are critical in this world," Thomas S. Sayles, senior vice president of university relations, told the crowd who gathered for the April 9 awards ceremony. "This year we're going to salute the creativity and the dedication of pre-K through third-grade teachers for promoting literacy."
Four $300 prizes were awarded, to Frank Cooper, a third-grade teacher at Mack Elementary; Susan Courtney, a first-grade teacher at Norwood Street Elementary; Dixie Duran, a first-grade teacher at Griffin Avenue Elementary; and Betty Lewis-Gomez, a first-grade teacher at Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary.
The top prize of $500 was given to Elizabeth Dominguez, a kindergarten teacher at Vermont Avenue Elementary.
The teachers were selected by their school leadership to represent their campus in the pool of applicants.
"The teacher was then asked to provide a self-introduction that answered questions about their philosophy on teaching in the neighborhood, as well as their leadership activities in their classroom, with their colleagues and in the neighborhood," explained Kim R. Thomas-Barrios, an executive director within university relations at USC. "All teachers who applied were exceptional, but the five winners really rose to the top with their answers to these questions."
Dominguez, for instance, discovered her love for teaching and working with children when she volunteered in Sunday school.
"She believes strongly that teaching is a calling and has true love for the profession in order to be an effective teacher," Thomas-Barrios said. "Elizabeth employs Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences when working with her students and enjoys sharing what she learns with her colleagues."
Dominguez said she was humbled to receive the top award among so many outstanding teachers.
"It was something I never expected," Dominguez said. "It was an honor simply to have been nominated."
Cooper is a nationally board certified teacher with a master's degree in school administration.
"He enjoys partnering with USC programs like USC Readers Plus and the Joint Educational Program because he sees the impact that a relationship with a university student has on the learning of his students — especially in promoting higher education," Thomas-Barrios said.
"I am an advocate of reading," Cooper added. "This award brings awareness of this fact that I celebrate with my students – past, present and future."
Courtney is continually cognizant of immersing her students in a literate classroom, Thomas-Barrios said.
"She utilizes cogent brain research on memory and employs the technique of 'brain breaks' daily based on this research," Thomas-Barrios said. "She believes strongly in collaboration and building positive social interacting among her students, and holds student congress sessions to share their investigations."
For Courtney, "literacy and books have always been a high priority of mine throughout my years in education and being honored at the Festival of Books is such a thrill."
Duran has been a teacher for 20 years, first starting as a teacher's assistant.
"She believes in a project-based and interest-driven classroom where children see themselves in a profession and empowered by their dreams," Thomas-Barrios said. "She communicates with parents weekly through a homework contract and holds monthly parent meetings with topics that help parents support their children – especially with reading."
Duran added: "Being honored at the Teacher's Salute means we value education, and dedication to teaching and learning."
Lewis-Gomez has been a teacher for 16 years, co-owns a child care center, and was a certified nurse.
"Taking care of others is her motivation in life," Thomas-Barrios said. "In her classroom, she feels that it is her responsibility to light the fires of imagination and curiosity, and to that end requested and received mini iPads for her class ... where the students use them for phonics practice, reading and math."
For Lewis-Gomez, "I don't see what I do as special ... it's part of my purpose. I need to make sure that these kids know – you can make your dreams come true."