Great teachers have a gift for sparking a love for learning in their students.

And Monday night Helena Education Foundation honored 50 distinguished students and the gifted teachers who most inspired them at the 15th Annual Celebration of Excellence.

For educator Cory Chenoweth being a distinguished educator runs in the family.

His mother, Joni Chenoweth, a former CHS distinguished educator, spurred his interest in going into education, and he invited her as his special guest Monday night.

Cory Chenoweth, a TRIO Upward Bound coordinator at both Helena High and Capital High schools, works with students from low-income families to help them “be the first to navigate their way to college.”

CHS senior Lia Ariizumi named Chenoweth as the distinguished educator who made a huge difference in her life.

“Cory has been with me all four years. ...He’s always been very supportive of me and encouraging and helped me prepare for college,” she said, adding he’s given her study tips and life lessons.

“He has not only cared about my education but me as a person.”

Ariizumi, a valedictorian, student body president, All State musician and captain of the cheer squad, will be attending UC San Diego to study physical sciences.

Another trio Monday night was also celebrating passing on the love of learning and great teaching.

Distinguished educator Terri Johnson, an academic tutor with the Indian Education for All program at HHS, was herself a distinguished student in 2005.

And Johnson’s special guest was Linda Lynch, the teacher who she had named in 2005 as the most influential educator in her life.

She’d honored Lynch at that time for understanding “that I had to be challenged every day.”

She also credits Lynch for inspiring her “to follow in her footsteps, to stimulate the minds of kids.”

And that Johnson has indeed done.

HHS senior Hailie Burke credits Johnson for helping her to become the first member of her family to graduate from high school.

“She has been the longest standing teacher who has been there for me all four years,” said Burke.

“She’s always been building me up and standing behind me through my education,” said Burke.

Without sitting at Johnson’s kitchen table getting homework help, Burke doubts she would be graduating.

“I will forever keep her words with me throughout college and the rest of my life,” she wrote in an essay.

Johnson notes how she saw Burke move from being a quiet student “to all of a sudden leading. Making her opinion known. Her grades all of a sudden shot up. ... She wanted to go somewhere. Despite some obstacles, she was bound and determined to come to school.”

Burke plans to jump start her college career by attending Helena College and studying psychology and social work.

Staff at the CHS, HHS and Project for Alternative Learning named the 50 distinguished students, who are all seniors, based on academic accomplishments, or significant achievement in a particular area, leadership or triumph over adversity.

In turn, the students each named an educator who was the biggest influence on them.

During Monday’s celebratory dinner, Superintendent Jack Copps greeted the crowd of 400 at the gala, by first congratulating the community for the successful school bond vote last Tuesday.

“Was that good, or was that good?” he said.

“Let me tell you about this evening — this is nothing but fun. It’s a great event,” he said,

“There are two pieces to public education. There is what we teach and then there is how we teach.”

“This evening is about both — but it is particularly about how we teach. ... It is in how we teach that we finally make something happen between teacher and a learner.

“So the question becomes, do we inspire? Do we demonstrate we care about each and every child that we work with each and every day? Are we enthusiastic about what we do? ... It is how teachers teach that makes a great, great difference.

“I applaud every student in this room for what you have done ... and equally so I applaud every single teacher. ... You provide the magic ... in that classroom.”

“This community stepped up less than a week ago by passing the bond by such a high percentage of the vote,” said HEF Executive Director Lisa Cordingley in a pre-interview.

“This is another way the community shows how much they value public education. ...It’s to show the teachers and the students we care about them, that we notice their accomplishments and that we are proud of them in everything they do.”

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