December 03, 2008
At a teacher staff meeting that third-grade teacher Marissa Ochoa once attended, Poway Unified School District Superintendent Donald A. Phillips said, "No matter what's going on in your life, this is the only year that that student is going to be in your classroom."
Ochoa never forgot those words, and she recalled them this morning when she was surprised by Milken Family Foundation Chairman Lowell Milken with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for her excellence as a teacher.
Note: click on the picture for a bio of Marissa Ochoa ------------------------------->>
As with every other Milken Educator, Ochoa did not expect to receive the honor this morning, nor did she even know she'd been nominated. As she stood along the wall near her students during a schoolwide assembly inside Valley Elementary School's multi-purpose room, listening to speeches from a roster of famous people and educational leaders, she had no idea that the whole thing had been organized to celebrate her achievements as an outstanding educator.
"You're all really lucky to be here and learning," said football legend Rosey Grier to the students of Valley Elementary School, "so that when you grow up, you can be anything you want to be: a doctor, a lawyer, a minister, a teacher—you can even be president!"
"It takes a whole community to make a great school," said California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "We all have a stake in making education great."
And that emphasis on the importance of teaching and learning continued as Lowell Milken began to speak, revealing hints about the real purpose of the assembly: to surprise a Valley Elementary teacher with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award.
In a profession that seldom honors its best practitioners with public acclaim or substantial reward, the Milken Educator Award, Lowell explained, was being given to a teacher at Valley Elementary "who is representative of the many outstanding teachers in this school, district and across the nation."
When Lowell announced Marissa Ochoa's name as the recipient, her students and colleagues filled the room with thunderous cheers and applause. Meanwhile, in the back of the room, a woman began to cry with joy and pride: Mary Ochoa, an employee of the Poway Unified School District and mother of the newest Milken Educator.
Giving Ochoa a moment to regain her composure, veteran California Milken Educators Linda Fisher (CA '98) and Susana Baum (CA '00) offered their congratulations and gave a brief glimpse of what it's like to be a recipient of the Award.
"This Award is life-altering," said Baum. "The Foundation does many good things and you should be proud."
Then it was Ochoa's turn to speak. She recalled the words of Superintendent Phillips and introduced her mother, whom she calls "Mama O." She then spoke about the profession she loves so much.
"Every student that comes through my door, I put my heart and soul into," she said.
She then addressed the students, telling them that "the teachers who push you the most are the ones who care the most for you."
For all her pushing and caring, her exemplary instruction and her commitment to her students, this was Marissa Ochoa's day, her Award, and the beginning of a brand new adventure in her life.
As Lowell Milken said to her, "You are a shining example of what's right in public education."