Grand Prize Finalist

Martha Infante

Position: Seventh Grade World History Teacher / GATE Coordinator

School: Los Angeles Academy Middle School

School District: Los Angeles Unified School District

City, State: Los Angeles, California

About the Nominee: Martha Infante was nominated by a colleague, Jennifer Mickey.

Many would describe Ms. Infante as a Life Changer for the work she has done at her school. They might cite how she has created the most prosperous Gifted Program in all of South Central L.A, or how she has helped generations of students obtain numerous educational experiences such as scholarships for attendance to private school, or to travel to China and Japan on education exchanges. They might even cite her own magic as a classroom teacher who brings Medieval World History to life and whose students eagerly rush to class to learn their next lesson.

Ms. Infante is a LifeChanger because she literally embodies what it means to change a school and a community. Los Angeles Academy Middle School would be very different had she not been a teacher there.

Through relentless and unceasing efforts, Ms. Infante has fought to change the image of what it means to be a student in South Central L.A. In a place that is often known for its gang violence, she has encouraged and succeeded in helping students from varying backgrounds find the scholar in them. She is someone who sees past the outer reflections of an environment to see the value and potential of each individual student. Students who were reluctant learners have transformed into ambitious and voracious learners due to the many programs and initiatives she started in the school, such as:

-the New Teacher Roundtable, which reduced teacher turnover -Professional Development for teachers, which placed the most able educators in front of high need students -the School for Advanced Studies, a renowned program of accelerated learning that students from all over the district seek to attend -the Student Travel Program, which takes students to domestic and international locations each summer

It would not be enough to improve her school without improving the wider community, however. Ms. Infante:

-conducts numerous parent trainings in both English and Spanish -has led electronic waste collection efforts to remove dangerous items from streets and alleys -obtained numerous grants for education projects -helped students and parents obtain citizenship -convinced runaways to come home to their parents -mentored teachers throughout the state of California and beyond

The number of individual lives she has changed are too numerous to list. There is one anecdote, however, that represents how Ms. Infante is a LifeChanger on a regular basis. There was a student whose parents were separating, which forced the mother and her children to live in a homeless shelter. The student's attendance and school performance were sporadic. As soon as she found out the cause, Ms. Infante went into commando mode and called as many contacts as she could to find a way to help the family. She was able to obtain a full scholarship so the student could attend a Cal Arts summer residential program. This relieved the mother from the stress of taking care of three children while homeless, and it gave the bright, but underachieving student a glimpse into a different world. The student is now a working artist, and the entire family found their way shortly thereafter.

There is no doubt that if Ms. Infante received a Life Changer of the Year award, she would invest any funds into continuing to improve her school, and to cement its role as a ray of hope and sunshine for many students.

Amy Lazarowicz

Position: Science Teacher

School: Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy

School District: Detroit Public Schools Community District

City, State: Detroit, Michigan

About the Nominee: Amy Lazarowicz was nominated by Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) superintendent, Alycia Meriweather.

Mrs. Lazarowicz is more than just a science teacher. She is the epitome of what it means to be a community educator and leader for her students. She has the ability to teach lessons that are both rigorous and engaging, with a strong focus on her students becoming stewards of the environment and their community. Mrs. Lazarowicz – with the help of her third, fourth and fifth grade classes – works exceptionally hard to maintain the outdoor classroom at Neinas Elementary School. This year, they’ve nurtured and studied onions, cabbage and potatoes among other vegetables that are made available to students and neighborhood families. Mrs. Lazarowicz also ensures that students stay engaged through the use of hands-on activities. She has organized various field trips to guarantee students make connections between the real-world and their classroom learning. Additionally, Mrs. Lazarowicz recently led her school to DPSCD RecycleBowl victory! Over the course of four weeks, they collected more than 300 pounds of recyclables. The school is a vibrant community, where teachers and students support one another and are fired up with a fierce competitive spirit.

Mrs. Lazarowicz and Neinas students in grades 3-5 recently presented at the SEMIS Coalition Community Forum at the Eastern Michigan University Student Center. They discussed how they went from working in silos to coming together as a community to create a new vision for their neighborhood space that had been blighted for over 12 years. Through school and community engagement, this group worked to create a vision for their Southwest Detroit Community and turned three burned and empty lots into hope for the future.

Under her leadership in the Science program, Neinas has completed every project released by the district's DPSCD Go Green Program. The students are very excited to learn about gardening and recycling through these projects. One student exclaimed: “We know what to recycle. And we love recycling!” Just recently, Neinas conducted their own recycle bin competition, where every class decorated their bin in competition for the best overall decoration.

The impact that Mrs. Lazarowicz has had and continues to have on her students, fellow educators and community exemplifies what DPSCD teachers should always be - dedicated, caring, able to see the bigger picture and doing it all with patience, a love for learning and compassion.

Casey Bethel

Position: Science Teacher

School: New Manchester High School

School District: Douglas County School System

City, State: Douglasville, Georgia

About the Nominee: Casey Bethel was nominated by his superintendent, Gordon Pritz.

Casey Bethel originally pursued a career as a doctor, then a scientist. While teaching University of Georgia undergraduate students in lab classes, he developed a passion and turned his attention towards K-12 education. He taught for ten years in DeKalb County before joining the Douglas County School System staff at New Manchester High School three years ago.

Mr. Bethel is an example of a teacher with a thirst for knowledge. He has spent the past six summers participating in Georgia Tech’s Georgia Intern-Fellowships for Teachers (GIFT) and conducting authentic biochemistry research. He is also a Paul A. Duke Award winner for his lessons, which have been published in The Journal of Chemical Education. Mr. Bethel isn’t simply learning for the sake of learning; he brings practical solutions into the classroom so his students understand the relevancy of the different curricula. He is truly a state “treasure” for enhancing and promoting the field of science to students in Georgia. In fact, his ability to make a difference in the lives of students, demonstrate leadership in the school and district and outstanding professional performance recently earned him the title of 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year.

A typical visit to Mr. Bethel’s classroom is exciting, motivating, inspiring and demonstrative of his belief in the teaching profession. He encourages and nurtures students, shares knowledge and provides inspiration while making students feel welcome and supported in his classroom. His teaching colleagues are amazed by his ability to balance his classroom responsibilities with supporting students outside of class. Mr. Bethel is often invited by other teachers to sit in on their classes and participate during his free periods. He has built strong relationships with his fellow teachers and has successfully encouraged them to become involved in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) to help promote the STEM field. Engaging with others, regardless of the topic or situation, is one of his strongest assets

Mr. Bethel doesn’t only teach science, however. He impacts the lives of his students for generations and sponsors a male mentoring club at New Manchester High called Project Manhood. As part of this club, Mr. Bethel works with young men to provide them with opportunities to give back to their community. He leads by example, and there is no finer role model for the district’s young people.

Mr. Bethel has a positive attitude and a relentless motivation to help students and other teachers thrive while serving as a caring husband, father and positive spark in the community. He and his family have stood strong in the face of extreme medical challenges in recent years including premature twins and cancer. Today, they stand strong as a testament to their faith and eternal optimism. They are heroes and a daily inspiration to many in the New Manchester High community.

Overall, Mr. Bethel’s leadership and communication skills, character, integrity, intellect and initiative make him a LifeChanger to everyone he comes into contact with!

Jay Porter

Position: Title 1 Site Coordinator/Vice Principal

School: Red Mountain Elementary School

School District: Washington County School District

City, State: Ivins, Utah

About the Nominee: Jay was nominated by his principal, Amy Mitchell.

Jay Porter is the heart of Red Mountain Elementary School; he has a positive influence that spills over into the community. It seems as if nothing is too big of a challenge for Mr. Porter. He finds unique ways to teach and motivate the school's high at-risk population. Some of the activities he has arranged to reinforce good behavior include: an indoor snowball fight (his students live in the desert and rarely see snow), a treasure hunt, bingo game, pie-eating contest, walking trip to the local ice cream store, etc. He also organizes a summer camp for his students each year to provide an option to TV binge watching and video game playing!

Additionally, Mr. Porter is always up to visit a student who has chronic absences or is ill. He finds extra "jobs" around the school to help reluctant students feel needed and welcome. After noticing a high number of students suffering from poor life choices made by their parents, Mr. Porter contacted a local family therapist who was willing to donate his time to conducting nighttime workshops at the school. Mr. Porter arranged for prizes and babysitters so that parents could easily attend and learn a few tools to help them navigate though parenting.

Beyond school, he volunteers as a Secret Santa each year, delivering toys to families in need. He also serves as a Big Brother in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization. Recently, Mr. Porter was with his coworkers at a conference in San Francisco. While walking back to their hotel one night, his colleagues noticed that Mr. Porter was missing. They couldn't find him until they noticed a trail of homeless men and women, each with a fast food burrito in their hands. Mr. Porter had left to purchase a bag full of food for these individuals in need and went about handing them out on the streets of San Francisco. This sums up just how much of a LifeChanger Mr. Porter is!