By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — During homeroom and first period Monday at Niskayuna High School, two teachers were surprised with bouquets of balloons carried by their colleagues, students and school administrators.
Though the surprise presentation is tradition with the Murray Award for Excellence in Education, Laura Favata, a math teacher, and Meghan Miller, who teaches Latin, were taken completely by surprise.
“You get nervous when a lot of people from administration are coming your way, and a lot of kids,” Miller said. “The balloons and everything were so exciting. I’m completely still in shock.”
The Murray Award is administered through the Niskayuna Community Foundation (NCF) and includes $2,500 for each teacher to use for the professional development of her choice. It was started in 2004 by Kathy Murray Crowe and Jeanne Murray Veasey, who wanted to honor their involved parents’ love for education and the Niskayuna community.
Each year, many teachers in the district are nominated for the award, and NCF members have to choose just two. “We get together as a committee, and it’s under a lock and key. It’s very secret,” Kathleen Kemp, a foundation member, said. “There are usually two to four students on our committee. I have another board member with me, the NCF presidents and a faculty member, and we discuss teachers and the students have a lot of input, I think, because, as I said, they’re the ones in the classroom, not us.”
While this year’s honorees were aware of the existence of the Murray Award, their reactions showed they didn’t expect to be its recipients this year. Both were overwhelmed and even teared up at points, especially when their students read short speeches praising their best qualities as educators.
Favata reiterated her teaching philosophy after the excitement died down for the morning.
“Everybody comes into math class with a different experience,” she said. “Some people love it; some people are there because they have to be. So I try to reach every student at the place they’re at.
“They need the confidence to be able to move on, so I try to instill in them the belief that they can succeed, and from there, they far surpass what they think they can do,” Favata said.
Miller discussed her passion for the language she teaches. “I really like to have kids see that Latin’s still relevant today,” she said. “There’s always that stigma that Latin’s dead, and why would you want to take Latin? So I think for the kids to make that connection that so much of their English vocabulary comes from it, and it touches every angle of their lives, in a sense.”
The instructors now have the gratifying task of deciding how they will spend their $2,500 grants for professional development.