COLUMBIA — A small yellow school bus transported a group a bit older than its normal occupants Friday: a team of school board administrators.
The Columbia Public School District administration team traveled aboard the bus to several elementary and junior high schools to announce awards to five of the seven honorees of this year’s Columbia Fund for Academic Excellence. The honorees will each receive a $1,200 cash award and an engraved silver tray.
Since its inception in the 1979-80 school year, the fund has recognized more than 200 educators. The honorees are selected each year from nominations submitted by peers and parents.
The fund was started with the work of Ray and Jeanne Lewis through extensive fundraising efforts and the initial contribution. The late Ray Lewis was a former Columbia School Board member and a local attorney. Jeanne Lewis was a teacher and continues to serve the community.
At each stop, Columbia School District Superintendent Chris Belcher led the team of administrators to the classrooms of teachers and the office of one principal, who were not expecting the visit.
Each surprise lasted no more than a few minutes — after all, classes were in session. But it was just enough time to express appreciation to the honorees with hugs and flowers as cameras flashed and recorded the events.
At Jefferson Junior High School, reading teacher Anna Osborn was recognized as the Outstanding Middle/Junior High Educator. As the group of administrators entered the room she abruptly stopped speaking to the class, confusion on her face. The look of shock quickly turned into a smile and tears.
Beverly Borduin, principal of Grant Elementary School, was surprised next in her office and immediately began to cry.
“This is such an honor,” Borduin said. “It’s not about me; it’s about the children. These are tears of joy.”
The third stop was at Parkade Elementary School to acknowledge second-grade teacher Brian Rehg in the preschool through second grade category. When he was handed the bouquet of flowers, little voices exclaimed, “We’re going to be on TV.” After thanking the group, Rehg did not hesitate to get the class back in order.
He counted down, “Four, three ...” The kids hurried to their seated positions, clustered on the floor. "Two ... one."
Fifth-grade teacher Jill Walters was awarded Outstanding Elementary Educator for grades three through five at Derby Ridge Elementary School. As she accepted the praise of the administrators, a student, aware of the cameras, said, “Show them your good side.”
The friendly atmosphere in the classroom was apparent. “I love Derby Ridge, and I love my kids, so thanks,” Walters said.
The last stop on the administration team’s field trip was to the classroom of science teacher Chelsea Foster at Oakland Junior High School. Foster’s face turned red as the group walked into the room. Students stood on their chairs to see their teacher honored by the large group of visitors. Little did the administration group know they were interrupting a timed assignment.
As they left, Foster's voice could be heard saying, “Alright, let’s add five more minutes on the clock.”
The administration team's field trip wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of extra excitement. As they walked down the hallway of Oakland Junior High School, an open classroom door revealing a chemistry experiment demonstration was enough to reel them in.
They watched the teacher spray chemical solutions over a Bunsen burner, creating colorful flames as the students voiced their approval. The excitement matched the overall atmosphere of the schools throughout the day — spring break was only a few hours away.