The problem was to keep from spoiling the surprise

The media knew who'd won, but the teachers didn't

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November 25, 2007|By Amy Davis | Amy Davis,Sun Photographer

My assignment to photograph two lucky teachers who had been selected as winners of the $25,000 Milken National Educator awards felt more like being invited to a surprise party than an assignment. Kiara Delle Hargrove, a chemistry teacher at Baltimore's Polytechnic Institute, and Mabrooka Chaudhry, who teaches social studies at Atholton High School in Columbia, supposedly had no way of knowing they were in the running for the awards, which have been called "the Oscars of teaching" by Teacher magazine.

As it turned out, both teachers had great facial expressions of shock when their names were announced. Hargrove's photo was the one that led the story, however, because the setting at Poly offered more opportunities to photograph her exuberance. Chaudhry was in a darkened auditorium, affording just a few moments for me to catch her facial expressions using a flash on the camera before she walked to the stage. On the other hand, Hargrove was standing near her students in front of the bleachers, and high-fived her way around the gym before reaching the podium. Gym lighting is usually lousy, and Poly is no exception, but by working with the existing dim light and not using flash I could shoot many frames of the graceful, athletic Hargrove in the minute it took her to dash around the gym.

The entertaining part was being in on the secret in advance. The public relations person for the Milken Family Foundation had discreetly pointed out the winner to all of the media in attendance at the start of the assembly. All of us with cameras tried hard to be ever so casual as we frequently scanned the room during the various speeches, so we wouldn't lose sight of where our subject was standing. We had to be ready to focus our cameras on the unsuspecting teacher the instant her name was announced, but not so soon that we would spoil the surprise.

I remember a surprise party a friend threw for me at the awkward age of 11, and my horror that I was wearing my ugliest corduroy pants and out-of-fashion pointy-toed Keds. When the object of this surprise was dressed as stylishly as Kiara Hargrove, I did have the teeniest suspicion that maybe someone had tipped her off. But after hearing about her many accomplishments and contributions to the school community, including being an adviser to the cheerleading squad, I figured that looking sharp was just another way this special teacher shows her students how to lead.

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