Surrounded by portraits of Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, numerous mobiles in every color combination, and a collection of odds and ends that could be used to create all sorts of art, Becky Liefeld was rendered speechless when she was named Educator of the Year last week by the Bexley Education Foundation.
Family members, including her mother, husband and children, as well as former students who helped nominate Liefeld, were on hand as the surprise was revealed April 12 in her classroom at Montrose Elementary School.
"Shocked might be a more accurate description. I had absolutely no clue," Liefeld said after the presentation. "I was overwhelmed and quite humbled. I have had the opportunity to teach in a stellar school district and have spent my career surrounded by an incredibly professional and dedicated group of educators, so the bar has always been set very high.
"To be singled out in this way is such a profound honor."
Marty Ross-Dolen, chairwoman of the 2013 Robert A. Glick Bexley Educator of the Year Award selection committee, summed up what led to Liefeld's selection.
"Every year, the committee gathers to review the nominations and struggles to choose one person from the many amazing nominees that are put forward," Ross-Dolen said to Liefeld. "This year, you received a whopping five separate nomination packets, each filled with incredible comments, memories, testimonials and tributes to you from your students, some grown and others still growing, their parents and your colleagues.
"They describe your devotion and dedication to your job and those you serve," Ross-Dolen said in her presentation.
"They describe your loving kindness, your smile, your flexibility, your unwavering positivity, your commitment to your students' success, and the magical place that is the Montrose art room, where for 30 years, you have impacted student after student, celebrating his or her individuality and creativity."
Ross-Dolen presented Liefeld with a Tiffany crystal apple -- as is tradition -- commemorating the honor. On April 24, Liefeld will be recognized publicly and presented with a $1,000 cash award at the Bexley Education Appreciation Banquet at Capital University.
As the news hit her in a room full of students, Bexley Education Foundation members, staff and well-wishers, Liefeld posed with her students, hugged those around her and asked her husband if he knew about the surprise.
The mood was high and the energy electric -- as always.
Liefeld grew up in Berwick and attended Eastmoor High School. She graduated from Capital University in 1978 and began her teaching career at Northland Academy, a small private school in Columbus, where she spent three years. After a year at Wilson Junior High School in Newark, she began teaching in the Bexley City Schools at Montrose. Along the way, she earned a master's degree in counseling from the University of Dayton.
Her husband, Mark Liefeld, teaches science at Bexley High School. They live in Bexley and their children are all Bexley graduates. Both Mr. and Mrs. Liefeld are planning to retire from teaching at the end of this school year, leaving a profession they both love.
"Every day I get to share what I know and love with children who are excited to learn and who inspire me with their curiosity, creativity and skills," Liefeld said. "We get to explore and create together. Through their art, they gain and allow me insight into their experiences, hopes, fears, dreams and values."
The Robert A. Glick Bexley Educator of the Year Award is presented annually to a Bexley educator whose leadership, dedication, achievement and commitment to students and the community has made a difference in children's lives. Sponsored each year by the Bexley Education Foundation, the award is funded through the Robert A. Glick Endowment of the Columbus Jewish Foundation.
The selection committee for this year's Educator of the Year Award included members of the Bexley Education Foundation Board of Governors and representatives from the Bexley Board of Education, Capital University and the community at large.