Original URL:  http://www.azstarnet.com/star/fri/31031MILKENAWARD.html

Foothills teacher wins Milken Award
October 31, 2003
By Jennifer Sterba

Spanish teacher Sheryl Castro of Catalina Foothills High School was awarded $25,000 Thursday at a surprise school assembly before her peers and students.

Teachers and students leapt to their feet in an ovation for the somewhat bewildered Castro - who at first just sat there with her hand over her heart, her eyes wide. Nearby colleagues hugged her and dragged her to her feet.

"She's a phenomenal influence," said Lin Shackman, assistant principal at Catalina Foothills, where Castro teaches. "She's open in sharing. She's a master teacher. Her colleagues respect her highly."

Brothers Lowell and Michael Milken established the National Educator Awards program in 1985 to reward, retain and attract quality teachers.

Participating states' departments of education identify candidates for evaluation and selection. How they do that is confidential, and the program does not include a nomination or application procedure.

Castro - one of 100 teachers recognized this year - joins a family of 1,977  outstanding teachers from 47 states and the District of Columbia given the award by the Milken Family Foundation. The private foundation was established in 1982 to advance inventive and effective ways of helping people help themselves.

The foundation has handed out $49 million since the program's inception - $2.5 million this year alone. The money is an unrestricted award and can be spent at the recipient's discretion.

"It never becomes old because each one of the teachers has an individual story," said co-founder Lowell Milken. "It's always exciting to see the students' reaction and admiration of other teachers."

When Milken asked for the envelope containing Castro's name as a winner, students enthusiastically provided the drum roll - banging their feet on the gymnasium bleachers.

"I had no idea," Castro said. "It's a good thing I didn't wear my jeans."

Castro said she didn't know yet how she would spend the money, but that it would be on "something good."

She graduated from Kearney State College in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and German. She continued her education with a master's degree in 20th-century Spanish and Spanish-American Literature from the University of Nebraska in 1986.

Castro, who also has an English as a Second Language endorsement, has 20 years of teaching experience. She spent nine of those years teaching Spanish to grades nine through 12 at Catalina Foothills.

"She really connects with the students. She's at that same level with us and she doesn't talk down to us," said sophomore Dana Behnke, a 15-year-old student of Castro's. "That creates an atmosphere that's easy to learn in and is more relaxed."

Sophomore Shannon Johnson, 15, agreed.

"She's really enthusiastic and you can tell she really has a passion about what she's doing," Johnson said. "You realize that Spanish is important and can be fun. It's just motivating."

It's Castro's ability to inspire her students that makes her so valuable to the district, Shackman said.

"Kids are active. They're engaged. They're learning," Shackman said.

Castro said she would describe her teaching style as relaxed, yet focused - something Castro said isn't difficult to keep up, regardless of good or bad days.

"You change your outlook in the classroom," she said. "It's not their fault if the washer at home isn't working. You walk into the classroom with a clean slate."

* Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at 573-4191 or at jsterba@azstarnet.com