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EAST CHICAGO |  Laughter and appreciation were in plentiful supply Thursday as the East Chicago Education Foundation hosted its annual Teachers of Excellence Recognition Dinner at Block Junior High School.

"It's important to celebrate teachers and let them know they are important," foundation President Linda Randolph said.

Each year teachers and administrators from public, private and charter schools in East Chicago choose one outstanding teacher at each school to be honored. The criteria to select a teacher includes how that person interacts with students, parents, colleagues and the community.

This year's recipients are Amari Abunadi, East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy; Barbara Berrones, McKinley Elementary School; Vonetta Davis, Harrison Elementary School; Leon Kendrick, Central High School; Rose Klapkowski, St. Stanislaus Elementary School; Maria McWhorter, Lincoln Elementary School; Jennifer Palkovich, Franklin Academy; Katie Scott, East Chicago Lighthouse Charter School; Helen Steinbach, Carrie Gosch Elementary School; Justin Stok, Washington Elementary School; David Todd, Block Junior High School; and Michael Villanueva, Field School.

Each teacher spoke in a video presentation shown to the crowd of about 200 people who attended the dinner. Each educator was then presented onstage by a current or former student, who gave reasons each recipient deserved the honor.

Denzel Smith, a 2012 graduate of East Chicago Central High School, spoke glowingly of Kendrick, who is retiring after 36 years as a music teacher.

Smith called Kendrick a mentor, father and friend whose classroom always offered a sense of hope and joy.

"What really can you say about somebody that changes so many people's lives?" Smith said.

Kendrick accepted the honor on behalf of his students and said his time in East Chicago enabled him to live out his dream of spreading love through music.

"One thing I've learned, if you can reach a child, and that child sees that you genuinely care, they will do anything," Kendrick said. "They will go beyond the call of duty."

Davis, who also has taught music in East Chicago for more than 30 years, said her students motivate her and keep her young. She said offering music and the arts in schools makes students more well-rounded individuals.

"What I want the kids to remember is to always have a spirit of excellence," Davis said.

McWhorter spoke of how she was inspired to become a teacher after working as a federal correctional officer.

"I worked with a lot of adults who were deficient in their reading and math skills," McWhorter said. "So I decided that I wanted to be a part of the solution to this problem."

Money generated from the dinner will help the foundation fund educational endeavors for East Chicago students. The foundation in the past has supported an elementary school Science Olympiad program and a high school robotics team.


Metro Editor