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Author Homer Hickam to Honor Teachers During McGlothlin Awards

Homer Hickam

Celebrated author Homer Hickam will be the keynote speaker at Radford University on Tuesday evening, April 12, when two teachers from the Blue Ridge PBS region will be chosen as $25,000 winners of the 2011 McGlothlin Awards for Teaching Excellence. This is the 12th anniversary of the McGlothlin Awards. The awards ceremony, which is open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. There will also be a question and answer session for educators with Hickam at 4 p.m. and a book signing at 5 p.m.

“Blue Ridge PBS is proud to partner with Radford University and the McGlothlin Foundation to celebrate all the talented teachers in our region, and select two of the best for the 2011 McGlothlin Awards,” said Dr. Rose Martin, director of education services for the station. “Homer Hickam, who grew up nearby in Coalwood, W.V., is a wonderful example of how our local teachers are inspiring students every day.”

Hickam is the best-selling author of the book “Rocket Boys,” which was made into the award-winning movie “October Sky.” His keynote address, titled “October Sky: Turning Dreams into Realities” includes recollections about how he benefitted from inspiring educators, the unsung heroes who motivate students to launch their dreams. Hickam’s high school science teacher Freida Riley at Big Creek High School in Coalwood encouraged him and the other “rocket boys” to work hard and pursue their passions. She gave them a book about rocket design and helped them to enter the National Science Fair, where they won a first-place medal in 1960.

“I believe there are many Freida Rileys out there who are doing the same, under appreciated job she did forty years ago and doing it just as well,” Hickam wrote in a 1999 open letter to teachers. “Because of that, I believe our nation’s children are heading for the stars. When they get there, I believe they will do so with their teacher’s names on their lips. And it is right that they do so.”

Thomas D. McGlothlin, president of the McGlothlin Foundation in Bristol, Va., said the annual teaching awards are intended to recognize the best teachers for their work, reward them for it, and by so doing inspire others to the high qualities they exemplify. Hickam’s “Rocket Boys” story, McGlothlin recalled, motivated him to establish the awards more than 10 years ago.

“It’s very appropriate to have Homer Hickam as our speaker for the Teachers Awards Ceremony this year,” added McGlothlin. “His teacher, Mrs. Riley, played a very inspirational role in his life, just as the teachers we desire to honor, play, on a daily basis, in the lives of all the students they teach.”

The two $25,000 prizes, among the largest teaching prizes in the United States, are given to the top elementary and secondary school teachers, with the stipulation that $10,000 be used for international travel. Providing international travel experiences is a significant goal of the McGlothlin Awards, offering winning teachers a chance to broaden their thinking and further enhance their excellence as professional educators. This year four McGlothlin finalists will also be recognized, each presented with a trophy and a check for $1,000.

To be eligible for the McGlothlin Awards, teachers must be full-time elementary or secondary school teachers of core curriculum from select public school districts. Eligible districts, located within the Blue Ridge PBS broadcast area, include schools in 41 Virginia counties and cities, as well as some neighboring locations in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Additionally, teachers must have five years experience and intend to remain in the profession.

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