Favorite teacher narrowed to 4 finalists

When asked to name their favorite teacher, many students have a clear choice.

However, those teachers are rarely, if ever, recognized.

The Costa Mesa Library Foundation set out to change that this year with its first favorite teacher contest.

TeWinkle Middle School teachers Denise McKenzie, Rebecca Millam and Misty Smith and College Park kindergarten teacher Cindy Fernald were each nominated by current and former students as contest finalists.

More than 200 students, some of whom had parents's help, submitted nominations for teachers in the Costa Mesa area. The four finalists received the most nominations.

Costa Mesa Library Foundation President Barbara Steck visited each teacher's classroom Thursday morning to present an invitation to the awards dinner and gala on May 17.

The event will serve as a fundraiser for the Costa Mesa Library Foundation with the goal of raising money for a new central library and expanding library services.

It will also provide teachers with some much-needed recognition, Steck said, adding, "You can never give too much credit to the teachers."

Students wrote about their teachers' kindness, dedication and fun-loving personalities.

Fernald, who transferred from Adams Elementary to College Park this year, wiped away tears as Steck mentioned some of the flattering things her current and former students had written.

"This is so exciting," she said, turning to look at her room full of energetic 5-year-olds. "These are happy tears, boys and girls."

"They're tears of joy," one boy shouted, hopping out of his seat and earning laughs from the adults in the room.

Principal Kira Hurst said she was pleased that three of the four finalists are TeWinkle teachers.

McKenzie, Millam and Smith all go the extra mile in the classroom, even taking their students on trips during spring break, Hurst said.

"To be your student's favorite teacher is pretty cool," she said. "They're my rock-star teachers."

Judges will select one winner during the gala based on the student nominations. The number of nominations is not the sole determining factor, according to the foundation website.

Millam, who teaches eighth-grade history, was shocked when Hurst and Steck entered her classroom to announce how beloved she is by her students.

"I'm not used to being the center of attention," she said, striking poses for the "paparazzi" of district and city officials present for the surprise.

The gala is open to the public, at $100 per ticket, and will feature a live and silent auction and music by members of the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra.

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