As KIPP STRIVE and KIPP VISION teacher Amber Stewart stayed up Monday night preparing for what her principal referred to as a meeting with a concerned parent, representatives from the Atlanta Families’ Award for Educational Excellence (AFAEE) were finalizing a secret plan to surprise her at work the next day to announce that she was a 2013 AFAEE winner. The next morning, while Stewart waited to meet with the fictitious parent, the action unfolded.
“I was just kind of waiting for the parent to come, and there was some kind of ceremony in the background, but I didn’t pay attention to it,” said Stewart. “Then, I heard my name – I was really shocked. I had no idea what was going on.”
The surprise announcement and subsequent celebration played out at nine other Atlanta Public Schools (APS) locations in a span of about six hours. Some winners were surprised by a knock at the door in the middle of a lesson; some had lunch brought in by Chick-fil-A and others were summoned to a last minute “meeting.” Celebrations for the winners included balloons, an over-sized check, gifts for students and special guests.The AFAEE recognizes and honors outstanding APS teachers and school leaders for their commitment to excellence, and it creates a platform to further award winners’ success, retain motivated educators and attract like-minded individuals to the district.
Stewart received a goodie bag, gifts for her students, a framed letter from Mayor Kasim Reed, a framed proclamation from the Atlanta City Council and a $7,500 check, which includes: $1,500 to fund a professional development opportunity, a $2,500 personal stipend and $3,500 to fund a classroom project.
Stewart’s project, Increasing Civic Engagement through Student Media, will help students use media publications to become more informed about the world around them, and enable them to distribute information via unbiased writing and speaking skills. She believes this will improve their communications skills, and open the door to careers in journalism.
Stewart graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in broadcast journalism. During her senior year of college, she says she felt a calling to work in a career that served a deeper purpose than sports journalism. So she joined the Teach for America program, moved from Chicago to Atlanta, and began her career in education. Stewart says she has found her calling, and she believes teaching is what she was created to do.
Stewart said Tuesday’s events left her feeling overjoyed, honored and blessed.
“I just received the shock of a lifetime,” she said. “You work really hard — not necessarily to get anything, but because you care about your students. So this just feels like an added bonus – it’s kind of the icing
on the cake to get recognition for the work that you do.”
The AFAEE will formally celebrate the 2013 winners on Nov. 21 at an awards ceremony at The Carter Center.