When Todd Benz learned that University of Rochester undergraduate Kelly Beamish had nominated him for a teaching award, he was honored. "The biggest honor a teacher can receive is recognition from a former student," he explained.
Each year, seniors at Rochester are given the opportunity to thank high school teachers who have had a profound impact on their education and growth as students and individuals by nominating them for the University's Singer Family Prize for Excellence in Secondary Teaching.
"The Paul Singer Family Foundation feels strongly that while devoted secondary school teachers play a vital role in the intellectual development of American society, they often receive little recognition or acclaim for their endeavors," said Gordon Singer, son of Rochester alumnus Paul Singer, who initiated the prize.
This year's winnersóTodd Benz, Timothy Cullen, Leya Mathew Joykutty, and Susan Berry Petersówere honored at a May 14 ceremony and watched their former students graduate on May 15. The Singer Prize recipients each received a plaque, $3,000 for each teacher, and $2,500 for their schools.
Todd Benz, technology teacher, Pittsford Mendon High School (Pittsford, N.Y.)
When student Kelly Beamish, who nominated Benz, described the influence he had on her education, she was quick to note the support and encouragement he gave her.
"During my junior year I realized I wanted be a dentist...and as I finished up the year in Mr. Benz's class, he began calling me Dr. Beamish," she recounted in her nomination letter. "He asked me every day about my thoughts on the field, what colleges had strong pre-dental curriculums, and what I was planning to do to prepare for dental school."
Benz, who is a resident of Chili, but has served as a teacher at Pittsford Mendon since 2004, is the faculty advisor for the school's Pittsford Mendon Engineering Club and was the creator of the Peer Tutoring program, which fosters mentoring relationships between upperclassmen students and freshmen. He is a member of the MHS Technology Committee, the Response to Intervention Team, and is a master teacher for Project Lead the Way.
"Mr. Benz continued to inspire me by motivating me to succeed in my classes," she explained. "He whole-heartedly acted as my mentor before I entered the University of Rochester."
Timothy Cullen, Advanced Placement U.S. history and economics teacher, and tennis coach, Leonia High School (Leonia, N.J.)
For senior Chae-Ri Han, Cullen is the principal reason she plans to pursue a career in education.
"Mr. Cullen was always thinking of innovative ways of teaching and he would frequently ask for feedback from his students about his pedagogy," she explained.
In her letter, Han described the many hours Cullen spent helping her with the college search. Throughout her time at Leonia High School, she wrote that Cullen served not just as a teacher, but also as a coach and mentor.
"Because he believed in me and told me to always strive for the best, I have gained self-confidence and faith," she wrote.
Leya Mathew Joykutty, advanced placement and honors biology teacher, American Heritage School (Plantation, Fla.)
Nominated by Sofia Melgarejo, the third Singer Award was given to biology teacher Leya Mathew Joykutty. Melgarejo credited Mathew Joykutty with sparking her interest in biology, encouraging her participation in the pre-med track at her high school and eventually her enrollment in the University's Rochester Early Medical Scholars (REMS) program.
"I can safely say that Mrs. Mathew undoubtedly helped pave the road that has led me to where I am today," wrote Melgarejo. "She is the definition of a real teacher: a role-model who not only imparted knowledge and wisdom, but disseminated love, kindness, and friendship."
Susan Berry Peters, mathematics teacher, Longmeadow High School (Longmeadow, Mass.)
Senior Benjamin R. Freedman nominated mathematics teacher Susan Peters because of her unique efforts to help students succeed in her classes.
"Mrs. Peters had elegant and innovative ways to teach topics, which made math concepts easy to learn," he explained. "I have carried these creative ways of teaching with me into my undergraduate education."
Fellow classmate and Rochester junior Juliet Wu agreed. "Her classes were challenging, but she taught in a way that made math interesting."
"Out of the many math 'tricks' that she shared with students, my favorite is her 'ZORRO' technique for common denominators, which is something that I will never forget and still use when needed."