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Two area teachers win 'Oscars' award

| Friday, Oct. 15, 2004

Winning a $25,000 award for teacher excellence was almost too much of a surprise Thursday for Cathy Crosby, a kindergarten teacher at Emerson Elementary School in West Mifflin.

"When I walked up there (to accept the award), I said to them that I might go into labor," said Crosby, who is eight months pregnant. "And there was a little bit of movement in there, but I was all right."

Crosby and Karen Alcorn, a first-grade teacher at William Penn Elementary School in Penn Hills, were among 100 winners nationwide of this year's Milken National Educators Award, which Teacher Magazine has called the Oscars of teaching.

The surprise awards, presented by the Milken Family Foundation, were begun in 1987 by Lowell Milken, chairman of London-based Heron International property development company and chairman of Knowledge Schools Inc. Milken has given away about $50 million in educator awards.

He was accompanied to yesterday's ceremonies, billed as a school assembly, by former NFL great Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier, one of the foundation's trustees and a one-time Penn State athlete.

"You cannot apply for our award," Milken said. "We find you; you don't find us."

The foundation said Crosby's students enter first grade well-prepared socially, emotionally and academically. She began "occupation month" in which parents share experiences with the students and help them make connections between school and life. She also uses group-learning centers so students can learn from each other as well as from her.

"She's awesome -- she's one of the only teachers I know who can take a classroom full of kindergartners and turn them into great first-graders," said Tammie Bell, the mother of one of Crosby's pupils. "I owe my son's great start in education to her."

Another parent, Karrie Munz credited Crosby for being thorough with her charges.

"She takes her time and really makes sure the kids understand what they're learning," Munz said. "She also gets to know the kids on a personal level."

The foundation said Alcorn organized and taught a parent class called "How to Help Your Child Read." She also conducts a summer reading program that invites past first-graders to discuss books. She also has developed a partnership with a senior citizens group to increase youngsters' appreciation of the elderly, the foundation said.

During the presentation ceremony, a tearful Alcorn thanked "co-workers who teach me every day and the children who have taught me every year -- it's their willingness that keeps me going."

Afterward, Alcorn hugged one of her pupils who had burst into tears and asked the girl why she was crying.

"Because I'm so happy," said Catie Schollaert, 6.

"I like her because she's nice, and she makes me want to be a teacher, too," Catie said.

The education departments in the 47 participating states and the District of Columbia appoint a committee to recommend candidates for the Milken award. The foundation selects winners based on educational talent, accomplishments, leadership potential and inspirational ability.

Winners may use the $25,000 however they wish. Alcorn said she has "no idea" what she's going to do with the prize money.

Crosby said she was still trying to convince her husband that she'd actually won $25,000.

"I'm definitely going to bring some of it back to the district," she said.

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