Pam Hilgert, a teacher at the Southwest Licking Local School District Kindergarten Center, was recognized last week by the Licking County Foundation for outstanding teaching and leadership.

Pam Hilgert, a teacher at the Southwest Licking Local School District Kindergarten Center, was recognized last week by the Licking County Foundation for outstanding teaching and leadership.

She received a surprise award during a student assembly at the school.

"We had all 150 students in the gymnasium," said principal Dana Letts. "She did not know she was going to be receiving the award. After we handed out our student awards, we announced it was a special day because one of our teachers was going to be receiving an award also."

Hilgert, whose career began at the kindergarten center when it opened in 1996, said the surprise worked.

"The children get what we call SuperKid awards and principal awards, and they said they had a special visitor today and we're all wondering what that is," Hilgert said. "(Licking County Foundation Director Connie Hawk) explained the award and then said my name and I was shocked. I had on an orange sweater and my face was the color of my sweater."

Hilgert was presented with an original work of art, a glass apple sculpture prepared at The Works in Newark. Each year, the Licking County Foundation recognizes 14 teachers, at least one in each school district in the county, for outstanding teaching.

Hawk said teachers are selected on the basis of the following criteria: They believe all students can and want to learn; they make a significant difference in the lives and learning of their students; and they are committed to professional development and outstanding classroom skills.

The selections are made by the superintendent's office, which consults with the staff.

"It promotes and recognizes exemplary teachers in our county," Hawk said.

The program started in 1993, with more than 250 teachers having been recognized since then. Honorees are eligible to apply for $500 grants for classroom supplies and projects. The foundation budgets $10,000 annually from the Lindorf-Warner Memorial donor advised fund.

"The donors understand how hard teachers work in the classroom," Hawk said, noting the grants have been used for field trips, books, technology and professional development.

"The common element over the years is that all the teachers go above and beyond," Hawk said. "They care and are passionate about what they are teaching."

Hilgert said she is an enthusiastic user of new SMART Board technology that allows the children to interact directly with data.

"I think it's partly that I was really excited about our SMART Boards that we got in the classroom last year, using technology in the classroom and passing those ideas on to the teachers," Hilgert said.

She said she also makes sure her students learn independence by encouraging them to work by their own initiative, rather than waiting for direction.

"For my beginning-of-the-day activities, I have tables set up so the kids know what they are supposed to do when they come in each day so there is no down time," Hilgert said. "They just come right in and get right to work. They don't have to sit and wait until everybody is settled and the teacher starts. They are independent and they get right to work."