Cathy G. Cerveny, a Harford County fifth-grade teacher inspired by her fourth-grade teacher to enter the classroom, last night was named Maryland's Teacher of the Year and given a $5,000 prize, free college courses and a computer.
For 17 years, Cerveny, 46, has taught her students to "never settle for less than your best" -- the motto posted on a banner in her classroom at Ring Factory Elementary School in Bel Air.
She was named last night in a ceremony at Martin's West in Baltimore County, after teachers from Baltimore city and 23 of Maryland's 24 counties competed and were narrowed to seven finalists.
"The whole program is so uplifting," Cerveny said last night after receiving the award. "As I sat there and saw the little vignettes on each teacher, I thought we certainly have an amazing group of teachers and it'll be nice to represent them."
Cerveny said her fifth-grade students were rooting for her and gave her a Native American good luck symbol on Thursday: a rock with a hummingbird carved into it. "They told me my message was it would bring me joy, happiness and good luck, and it did," she said. "I hope we'll all enjoy this year together. I want them to be a part of this year with me."
The state Teacher of the Year award is affiliated with the National Teacher of the Year Program, in which Cerveny will compete, said Darla Strouse, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Department of Education.
The national award will be announced by the president at the White House in April.
As Maryland's top teacher, Cerveny will be an ambassador of education statewide and nationally. The gifts she received last night included a week at space camp in Huntsville, Ala., a "mini-voyage" on the Pride of Baltimore II, a watch and a gold pen.
Cerveny credits her fourth-grade teacher, a "petite, warm-hearted soul" named Mrs. Skamser for encouraging her to learn and showing her that "anything is possible."
"By the end of that magical year with Mrs. Skamser, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. That one year with an excellent teacher had changed my whole life," Cerveny wrote in an essay for the competition.
Her junior high school biology teacher helped guide her career when he urged Cerveny's father, a steel worker, to find a way to send his daughter to college.
Cerveny received her bachelor's degree in education from West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
Stephen Hagenbuch, principal of Ring Factory Elementary, said Cerveny takes whatever time is necessary to help her students.
"She's willing to go the extra mile to do whatever is necessary to help all kids be successful learners," Hagenbuch said. "Cathy has an undying belief in children."
Pub Date: 10/05/96