Lifelong love, unexpected honor

A Central Elementary third-grade teacher is surprised with a $25,000 national award

October 13, 2006|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,sun reporter

Dana Perdue takes her third-grade classes bowling, attends karate competitions and treats the pupils she mentors to lunch.

"The more I can give to them outside of school, the more they can give in the classroom," the Central Elementary School teacher said.

Perdue, 27, also mentors new teachers and is credited with helping the school earn some of the highest standardized test scores in the state.

For her dedication and hard work, Perdue was honored this week with a $25,000 National Educator Award at a surprise announcement at the Edgewater school. She can spend the prize from the Milken Family Foundation any way she wants.

"It was incredible," she said. "I was shocked and relieved."

Faculty, staff and pupils at Central Elementary gathered in the school's multipurpose room Wednesday for what they thought was an assembly on responsibility. In attendance were Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell, three school board members, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, state Sen. John C. Astle and County Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly.

A chorus sang, two pianists performed and a pupil read a fable on responsibility before Lewis C. Solmon, a senior adviser for the Milken foundation, announced that he was there to present an award to one of the teachers.

As he described the unidentified teacher, Perdue said she thought of all the deserving educators at her school who fit the bill. When her name was announced, she cried as teachers clapped and children cheered.

"I know some of you are too young to understand, but sometimes when adults get happy, they cry," she explained to the children as she took to the podium. "I'm not sad."

Perdue said she'd never heard of the Milken award. She's the fifth Anne Arundel County teacher and the 49th in Maryland to earn the honor in the last 13 years.

The Milken Family Foundation in California has been giving the award since the mid-1980s to reward educators who go beyond the call of duty. Supervisors, colleagues and co-workers must nominate teachers for the award.

Rocco Ferretti, principal of Central Elementary, said he had to keep the secret of Perdue's award for about two weeks. He said he nominated Perdue for the contest last summer.

He described her as an outstanding teacher who attends nearly every extracurricular activity - even on nights, weekends and over the summer.

"The difference between a very good teacher and an outstanding teacher is that an outstanding teacher makes teachers around her better than they are," he said.

In addition to her work teaching and mentoring, Perdue has volunteered at her church as a youth director, led a mission trip to Mexico and taught weekend religion classes to toddlers. She's also worked at the Ruth Parker Eason School teaching severely disabled senior citizens and elementary school and preschool pupils. She also was captain of Central's Relay For Life team and led a Canning Hunger campaign team to collect and deliver food to shelters in Pasadena.

The award is aimed at mid-career teachers, Solmon said.

"We want them to stay in teaching, encourage them to stay in the profession," he said. "We don't want it to be a lifetime achievement award."

Perdue, who is in her sixth year of teaching, said her career path has been clear since kindergarten.

"My teacher was very nurturing, very caring," she said. "I loved school, and I loved learning."

A native of Salisbury, she graduated summa cum laude from Salisbury University in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. She's currently working on her master's degree at Loyola College.

She said that most of the $25,000 award will go to paying her student loans. Now that she's won the honor, she said, she hopes to keep living up to the same high standards.

"I want to continue spending extra time with my students and continue going above and beyond and never become blas?," she said.

anica.butler@baltsun.com

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