Grand Prize Finalist

Dennis Kass

Position: History/Law/Social Studies Teacher

School: Infinity Math, Science and Technology High School

School District: Chicago Public Schools

City, State: Chicago, Illinois

About the Nominee: Dennis Kass is a Social Studies teacher at Infinity Math, Science and Technology High School. He is highly esteemed and appreciated by students, families, and staff in the Little Village community. Soon after Mr. Kass started teaching, he used his legal degree to start a legal clinic at Infinity to distribute free legal advice to students and families. In 2010, he established and founded the Chicago Law and Education Foundation to provide accessible legal services to thousands of low-income families and students. Mr. Kass expanded his legal clinic to 17 Chicago Public High Schools after realizing that so many families and students need legal resources. He personally handles hundreds of cases each year at Infinity alone, and he helps thousands of people by educating them about their legal rights ranging from domestic violence to immigration. He has worked on student legal problems that range from homelessness, immigration, domestic violence and family problems to sexual assault, prostitution, and more. In addition, he engages his students to become free thinkers and active learners. His teaching method motivates students to be better people and inspires them to publish research articles to learn more about social problems that affect them, which enables them to become agents of social change. Mr. Kass goes above and beyond on a daily basis in his role as teacher/attorney. He has a fun, yet effective, take-charge attitude. He excels at any task he faces and has become a vital contributor to the improvement and betterment of the Infinity High School community.

Mr. Kass is incredibly compassionate and conscientious, and his passion for social justice is unquestionable. Hundreds of students have sought both legal and educational advice from him. Many of them do not think they would have made it where they are today without his help and constant motivation. He provided his students with the tools and resources necessary to transform their lives for the better. He never gives up on his students. For example, Mr. Kass is very involved in his students’ academic futures even after graduating high school. He reviews college assignments and constantly asks his students how they're doing to see their progress and ensure that they graduate. In addition, he takes time from his already busy schedule to work on the legal clinics to help students and families with any hardship they struggle with. He is accessible and always willing to provide guidance, support and both legal and educational counseling to students and families.

[nominee_videos nominee_email=""]

Amanda Reyes

Position: Physical Education Teacher

School: Tippit Middle School

School District: Georgetown Independent School District

City, State: Georgetown, Texas

About the Nominee: Amanda Reyes exemplifies the meaning of compassion, team work, leadership, tolerance, responsibility and trust through everything she does. As a physical education teacher and sports coach, she instills strong moral values in her students. Although Coach Reyes coaches many sports, basketball is her biggest passion. She gives every student the opportunity to be a part of the team as long as they have a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn. She looks after her students long after they leave Tippit, even going as far as inviting them to return to help coach the middle school students. Coach Reyes is often seen at high school volleyball and basketball games cheering on the kids she once coached. She is truly their biggest fan! Another of Coach Reyes' passions is fighting against childhood cancer. She helped organize Tippit's first annual “Dig Gold” volleyball game in September 2015 to raise money for cancer research and treatment. She encouraged students' involvement by suggesting they make posters to hang in the gym. Coach Reyes was also an active participant of Alex’s Million Mile, where Tippit students and staff collectively contributed over 4000 miles to the Georgetown team. In addition, she gave a group of 6th grade students the opportunity to organize an ice bucket challenge in memory of their friend who passed away from cancer. They raised $1300 for childhood cancer research!

Because of her efforts, many students have been given opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. Through the ELITE club, for example, she gives girls not involved in other extracurricular activities the opportunity to learn leadership skills. She believes that every child has the potential to succeed, and she will do everything she can to make each child believe that they can make a difference.

Last year, Coach Reyes was also in charge of the school’s No Place For Hate program and organized Diversity Day. The students in her club set up stations throughout the school representing different countries and their cultures. It gave the other children exposure to Georgetown's diverse population. More importantly, it sent them the message that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, regardless of where they come from.

There are certain people who go above and beyond to touch the lives of kids around them, and Coach Reyes is one of these people. Her positive influence has changed so many lives at Tippit. The students are blessed to have her as their coach, teacher and mentor!

[nominee_videos nominee_email=""]

Theresa Barkhimer

Position: School Based Social Worker

School: Shawnee Middle School

School District: Shawnee Public Schools

City, State: Shawnee, Oklahoma

About the Nominee: Ms. Barkhimer is a proven leader and advocate for underprivileged students and families within the community. She is known as a community outreach and leadership specialist throughout the district. The programs she has implemented and maintained have touched the lives of many students and families. Ms. Barkhimer works with multiple churches, area businesses and large factory corporations to provide food, clothing and assistance to the students. She also collaborates with other teachers to develop lessons that create a more positive atmosphere for the students. As a school-based social worker, Ms. Barkhimer partners with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma to maintain a food pantry at Shawnee Middle School that serves Shawnee Middle School and two other schools in the district. This labor-intensive project requires many hours of hard work and an army of volunteers to manage. Ms. Barkhimer does this with such poise and grace that within a year her pantry went from serving nine students per week to more than 120! She also works with area groups to provide about 75 Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, and, in collaboration with the City of Shawnee, delivers Christmas gifts to families in need. Ms. Barkhimer goes way beyond her duties as a school district employee to ensure that her students, school and community are taken care of in every possible way. The programs she runs and her caring heart touch the lives of many Shawnee students, past and present, and gives them hope for a brighter tomorrow.

[nominee_videos nominee_email=""]

Marla Cosner

Position: English, Social Studies and Music Teacher

School: Mesquite Continuation High School

School District: Sierra Sands Unified School District

City, State: Ridgecrest, California

About the Nominee: Mrs. Cosner is so beloved at Mesquite Continuation High School that many students request to be in her class. While most classes average 15 students; Mrs. Cosner's classes often have between 19-23 students! Mrs. Cosner shows her students respect and love the minute they enter her classroom. She has a natural ability to recognize students' strengths and capitalize on them to help students build intrinsic motivation with their studies and grades. In addition to teaching English and history, Mrs. Cosner leads two music classes – guitar and piano. Outside the classroom, Mrs. Cosner supports the community through the non-profit she helped found, the Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society. She appears in most of the productions and spends long hours rehearsing and directing. All proceeds from the productions are donated to support music education within the school district. Some of the students at the school are the first in their families to earn a diploma. Numerous students have credited for helping them on the path to graduation. Mrs. Cosner is credited with changing too many lives to count and for having a profoundly positive impact on the lives of many past and present students of Mesquite Continuation High School.

[nominee_videos nominee_email=""]