Harford teacher gains national honor

Diana Kolego named as Maryland's 2006 Star of Teaching

September 14, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Judy and Charlie Hunt arrived at Hickory Elementary School in Bel Air just before 10 a.m. yesterday and were whisked into the teachers lounge.

For more than a week, they had kept a secret from their daughter, Diana Kolego, a teacher at the Harford County school, and they didn't want to blow it now, minutes before the ceremony.

Finally, they were led into the gymnasium and stood behind their daughter. They tried to blend in, but Kolego spotted them. Judy Hunt quickly came up with a story about them making a donation for the playground.

"I didn't think anything of that," said Kolego, a 34-year-old Bel Air resident. "That made me think the assembly was about the playground."

In fact, the Hunts had come to see their daughter receive the No Child Left Behind 2006 American Star of Teaching award. Established in 2004, the honor is given annually to one teacher in each state by the U.S. Department of Education to recognize teachers who demonstrate effective teaching practices. More than 4,000 teachers nationwide were nominated this year.

Although Kolego was aware she had been nominated by a colleague, she was flabbergasted when her name was called during the assembly, which was attended by third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders, as well as faculty and staff members. Kolego put her hand to her mouth and sat motionless for a few moments before walking to the front of the gym to accept the award and a dozen red roses.

"My stomach is shaking, and I am completely shocked," she said after receiving the award. "The rest of the day, I'll be floating."

Norma Garza, the senior adviser to the U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, presented the award to Kolego.

"The award is given to teachers that go above and beyond her teaching requirements to help children learn," Garza said.

During her 10 years as a teacher, including the past four at Hickory, Kolego has undertaken several activities aimed at enhancing the learning process for her pupils. She started a project in which her fourth-graders write and publish a book. The activity culminates with an "author's brunch" during which the pupils read their stories to their parents and share some delicacies.

"The program has gained such popularity that all the children in her class participate, and now even other teachers are doing brunches and teas," Hickory Principal Gail Connolly said.

In addition to initiating activities that make learning fun, Kolego tries to connect with her pupils.

"No matter how you teach a child, whether it's getting to know their interests, or what they do in their spare time, it has to be a positive interaction," Kolego said. "When I help a student who is struggling with reading or any schoolwork, I try to tell them that if they are trying, that's all that matters. And it makes learning more fun for them."

Nine-year-old Jeffrey Lofurno said he felt like bragging when his teacher's name was announced.

"I wanted everyone to know I have the best teacher," the Bel Air resident said.

Andria Sorrentino, who attends Towson University and is a student teacher at Hickory, said she feels fortunate to have Kolego as a mentor.

"I have never worked with a teacher with such a great passion for teaching," said Sorrentino, 26. "There's a lot to learn from her. And this award proves that other people think the same thing."

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