Get to know the awardees!

These five extraordinary educators from across the country received the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence, $10,000, and recognition at the NEA Foundation's Salute to Excellence in Education Gala on February 10, 2017.


Carol Bauer, a fourth grade educator at Grafton Bethel Elementary School in Yorktown, Virginia

“What are you passionate about?” It is “Genius Hour” in Carol Bauer’s classroom and her students are excited about the weekly exercise, which allows them to conduct independent research on a topic of their choice.  


Before they begin, she wants them to know that not every source on the internet is credible. Misinformation, opinions, sheer fabrication, and fibs abound, she tells them. Other vocabulary words for the day include hoax, scam, credentials, verify, and validation.


To illustrate her point, Bauer takes students to an internet site on their tablets that encourages viewers to “Help Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus from Extinction.” The site explains the habitat of these solitary cephalopods and states that, unlike others in their species, they are amphibious, spending only their early lives and mating seasons in their ancestral aquatic environment. Bauer uses the “Five Ws” model (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) to help students evaluate whether the site is real.  


After using critical thinking skills and discussing clues that determine the site is a hoax, students turn to their own research and writing projects for the remainder of the class.                  


Bauer is a National Board Certified Teacher Generalist for Middle Childhood and has been teaching for 21 years. She earned her BS in political science from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and her MA in Education at the College of William and Mary where she has also done post-graduate work.


Currently, Bauer serves on the NEA Board of Directors and the National Read Across America Committee.  In addition, she was appointed to the New Business Item (NBI) Committee during the 2015 NEA Representative Assembly (RA). In 2014, she was named a Discovery Education DEN Educator and in 2012–13, she served on the Governor’s Teacher Focus Group.

Sonia Galaviz, a fifth grade educator at Garfield Elementary School in Boise, Idaho

Each school day with Sonia Galaviz starts with a “picture of the day” which gives her students an opportunity to tackle social issues. Today’s image portrays a woman holding two plastic bottles filled with murky, discolored liquids. “Does this photo relate to an issue in the news?” Galaviz asks, and “Is it a human right to have clean water? 


The day before, students hauled buckets of water across a field and reflected on how people in other countries get their water supplies. A homework assignment required students to analyze the quantity of water their families use including the amount spent for nonessential purposes.    


Photos posted around the classroom represent different types of water filtration systems. Today, the students will build their own; sand, pebbles, coffee filters, cotton, and activated charcoal are on hand for the students’ experimentation.     


On other days, representatives of the local water company will tell students about the filters that they use and students will do field work in the Boise River. Galaviz hopes that her students begin to see themselves as part of the solution.  


In addition to experiential learning, families are a central component of Galaviz’s approach to instruction. Home visits, interactive homework, and large potluck dinners create a sense of community in the school.


Galaviz has been teaching for 15  years. She served on the Nampa Education Association Executive Board and has held various committee positions. She has been a building representative for 11 years and serves as the IEA Member-At-Large on the IEA Board.  


She sits on the National Advisory Board for Teaching Tolerance and received one of five national awards in Culturally Responsive Teaching from the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2011.  


She holds a BA in Elementary Education with an ESL endorsement. She earned her MA  in Curriculum and Instruction with a Bilingual Education emphasis—both from Boise State University where she is currently a doctoral student. 

Stephanie Johnson, a second grade educator at HB Rhame Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina

Stephanie Johnson opens her cross-cultural lesson with a Rorschach image. “What do you see?” she asks. Some students see a man playing a saxophone while others see a woman’s face. “How is it that we all have the same picture but see different things?” she continues. Today’s lesson is on perspectives and the students discuss what they think this term means.


By a show of hands, the students indicate that they know the storyline for Jack and the Beanstalk. Johnson then presents a summary of the situation presented in the book and prods with more questions. Was it wrong for Jack to steal from the Giant? Should he have listened to his mother? What do you think?


The students then watch a video about the key components of an argument including purpose, claims, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence, which are also their vocabulary words of the day. By drawing straws, they are assigned to take Jack’s side or the Giant’s side in the debate that ensues. Johnson tells the students that at school and in life, they will be exposed to people with different experiences and views and that all perspectives should be valued.  


Johnson’s teaching also includes the integration of technology into her lesson plans. In addition, she uses technology to conduct professional development training for her colleagues and workshops for parents.


Johnson earned a BA in English and an MA in Teaching from the University of South Carolina and is an Executive Leadership degree candidate at Gardner-Webb University. She is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early in Middle Childhood/Literacy and has been teaching for 12 years.


She serves on the executive board of the SCEA and is a trainer for the SCEA Children’s Foundation. She also serves on NEA’s National ESSA Implementation Team and was a Minority Leader Training participant. Currently, Johnson is a Hope Street Group National Fellow.

Melissa Ladd, a fifth grade educator at Poplar Road Elementary School in Sharpsburg, Georgia

During one of several lessons on the Underground Railroad, Melissa Ladd asks, “Now that you know more about a slave’s life on the planation, would you stay or would try to escape? Why?”


To illustrate the hard road to freedom, she divides the students into teams, equips each team with a lantern and a sack of supplies, and tells them to remove their shoes for a historical simulation of slaves’ experiences. Each team rolls dice that allow them to advance to stations representing a field, a cabin, or a stop on the Underground Railway, which will take them to the northern border and a new life. The odds are against them and the teams are sent back to the plantation or to another station where they reroll the dice to attempt escape again.  


Periodically, Ladd stops the action for a “climate check” and each student writes down one word that describes a feeling, smell, taste, sight, or touch. After the simulation, she asks each team to write a tweet describing their overall experience.


Other learning comes from primary source analysis of historical photographs and paintings, comparing modern day slavery worldwide with slavery in the United State prior to the Civil War, and reading true stories, such as Henry’s Freedom Box.   


Ladd has been teaching for 12 years. She earned a BS in Early Childhood Education, an MA of Reading Instruction, and a PhD of School Improvement, Science Education Endorsement, and Specialist of Early Childhood Endorsement from the University of West Georgia.  


She has served as President of the Coweta Association of Educators and has lobbied on several issues at the state level.

Al Rabanera, a mathematics educator at La Vista High School in Fullerton, California

As images flash across the front of the SmartBoard, students see and hear the familiar sounds of a basketball bouncing. Then, almost immediately their attention is shifted to the thrills of experiencing a roller coaster ride first hand. “What is a parabola and where do you see them in real life?” interjects Al Rabanera as images transition from dolphins leaping out of the water to pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.  


Rabanera is facilitating a discussion about quadratic functions in his algebra class at La Vista Continuation High School (LVHS). LVHS serves students that have struggled academically in traditional high school setting. “LVHS is a nurturing environment that provides “at-promise” students with opportunities and support to make better life choices,” states Rabanera. Rabanera gives his students the content to fill in their learning gaps and constantly researches practical applications to pique his students’ interest.


As access to technology becomes more available for his students, an array of instructional strategies fill Rabanera’s toolbox ranging from Google Apps for Education and individual handheld responders to online-based programs that help students visualize mathematics. Rabanera, who has been teaching 12 years, differentiates his instruction to accommodate each of his students’ unique experiences and learning needs. However, today’s lesson is decidedly low tech, as students sketch functions using graph paper and pencils.


Rabanera is also a leader in professional development. Seeing a need for teacher-led opportunities, Rabanera coordinates Teachers Teaching Teachers events that focus on instructional shifts and best classroom practices. The sessions provide teachers from five counties with the opportunity to network and share ideas. Rabanera also created a college/university mentoring program, Growing Future Teachers, which identifies and pairs undergraduate students with accomplished local classroom teachers.


Rabanera earned his BA in Social Science from the University of California, Irvine.  He was awarded a Single Subject Clear Credential in Foundational Level Mathematics, his MS in Education, and his Preliminary Administrative Credential from California State University, Fullerton. He also earned his EdD in Educational Leadership from the University of Southern California.