Avid readers of this newspaper know that Luther Middle School teacher Rebecca Mieliwocki received the National Teacher of the Year for 2012, but they might not know why.
She engages her students in the classroom and inspires her fellow teachers, said her co-workers during a luncheon on Saturday where she received Woman of the Year 2013 from the Zonta Club of Burbank at the Castaway restaurant.
Luther teacher Traci Fellman recalled how Mieliwocki offers ways to improve the campus and inspires others to try new things. She led the way to spruce up the teachers’ lounge and helped organize the Luther Losers weight-loss program.
“Rebecca is always there to make things better and push people outside of their comfort zones,” Fellman said.
Mieliwocki is less enthusiastic about stepping out from her own comfort zone, so Fellman challenged her into competing in a triathlon. And after crossing the finish line, they celebrated by indulging in their favorite food — bacon.
Stefanie Enokian, another Luther teacher, said one of Mieliwocki's greatest assets in the classroom is the way she holds her students' attention with her humor, accents, jokes and thinking like a 12-year-old at heart.
Enokian remembered a first day of school when a student was comparing her class schedule with another student in the hallway, and said she had a class with Mieliwocki. Unbeknownst to the student, Mieliwock was walking behind her and told her, “Oh no, she's the worst!”
The student was surprised when she sat down in Mieliwocki's class and saw the same blond woman at the front of the room who had given her the advice earlier.
Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy presented Mieliwocki with a certificate of appreciation from the city in honor of her leadership, passion and commitment to education.
“Thank you for making a difference in so many lives and your caring contributions to our city,” the mayor said.
Zonta presented Mieliwocki with a bouquet of flowers and a Woman of the Year pin. In addition, club president Grace Farenbaugh said a $500 donation was made in Mieliwocki’s name to a foundation called She's the First, which sponsors education for girls in developing nations, allowing them to be the first in their family to graduate from secondary schools.
In a modest acceptance speech, the honoree told how she is not the best teacher at Luther, and that the title could go to any one of her fellow teachers at her table.
“I'm just nurtured and completed by all the incredible people that I have the opportunity to know and to work with,” Mieliwocki said.
Her 12-year-old son, Davis, and husband, Duane, were in the audience cheering her on.
Duane Mieliwock said he knows her as a wife and mother, but now he is seeing what she does at her job.
“It makes me fall in love with her all over again,” he said.
JOYCE RUDOLPH can be contacted at email@example.com.