OKLAHOMA CITY — Seniors at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM) honored their favorite teachers recently, with a special recognition ceremony. More than 50 teachers from across the state, many of them accompanied by spouses, principals, superintendents, and legislators, traveled to Oklahoma City to be congratulated by their former students for their commitment to excellence in education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Sandy Garrett, attended the ceremony to join OSSM Outreach Coordinator, Dr. Jack Herron Jr., to present certificates of appreciation to the honorees. As the certificates were awarded, Tyler Suiters, news anchor for KOCO TV in Oklahoma City, read a personal tribute about each teacher written by his or her former student.

"The purpose of Teacher Appreciation Day is to recognize that a significant part of our students' success is due to the education they received from teachers they had in their home school districts," said Dr. Edna Manning, president of OSSM. "It also gives students an opportunity to thank these outstanding individuals for the important, positive impact they had on their lives."

OSSM's 15th class will graduate in May, on the steps of the Oklahoma State Capitol Building. The Class of 2006, with 59 students from 41 counties across Oklahoma, includes nine National Merit Finalists and 8 Commended Scholars, 3 candidates in the 2006 Presidential Scholars Program, two Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Academic All-State Scholars, 26 Advanced Placement Scholars, and 16 recipients of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Scholarship.

“Mrs. Elizabeth Smith was my gym teacher, and my eighth grade English teacher,” said Hightower.

“I had found previous English classes monotonous. But Mrs. Smith picked enjoyable literature, including ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’

“We also had writing assignments, but they were more creative than the age-old, ‘What I Did Over The Summer’ topics, but included topics such as, ‘If I were stranded on a desert island, and I could only take three items with me (other than food, clothes, and shelter), what would they be and why.’

“My favorite writing assignment consisted of Mrs. Smith showing us a black-and-white drawing of a woman lying on a bed with her eyes shut and an open book lying next to her. She asked us to write a fictional story that included the scene in some fashion. Instead of assigning the usual type of book report we did video book reports. Mrs. Smith asked us to come up with a short skit or re-enactment of our book. Then we watched the videos in class.

“Mrs. Smith noticed I loved running. I didn't think that I was good enough to make the track team, much less do well. Mrs. Smith persuaded me to try it and finally I agreed and joined the team. Not only did I love the sport, but it was actually something I was good at. I had simply needed someone to believe in me and convince me to attempt it.

“Mrs. Smith taught me to believe in myself and dream big. She encouraged me to go beyond my self-created limits and attempt what I never thought possible. Without her encouragement, I would have never joined the track team, which has also shaped who I am. Thank you, Mrs. Smith, for teaching me to believe in myself,” Hightower said.

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