Rita Hines, a math teacher at Science and Engineering Magnet School in Dallas, and Richard Lazarou, a geography and sociology teacher at Willow Ridge High School in Houston, have been selected to receive the Texas A&M University Inspiration Award for Exceptional Education.
Both teachers were nominated for their awards by former students who will graduate during the Saturday (May 10) commencement ceremonies. Hines’ award will be presented at 9 a.m. and Lazarou’s at the 2 p.m. ceremony. Both will be held in Texas A&M’s Reed Arena, where approximately 12,000 will be in attendance, including the Aggie graduates, family members and friends.
The unusual Texas A&M award is believed to be the first of its type sponsored by any university in Texas.
The recipient of the award is recognized during the ceremony at which the nominating student graduates and he or she is presented a check for $2,000. The teacher’s high school receives $1,000.
As a university known for valuing excellence, leadership and service, Texas A&M sponsors the award as a way of recognizing those values in the teachers who have inspired and challenged their students to excel, officials note.
Hines was nominated by Claudia Vega, who will receive her interdisciplinary studies degree from Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development.
In her nomination form, Vega says Hines was a blessing to many of her students and her classroom environment was inviting and welcoming. She says Hines made the class comfortable and, when her calculus students expressed concerns, she responded with love and kindness. However, when the students needed it, that love became “tough love.”
She had high expectations for her students and believed they could succeed, Vega says. Hines would do everything in her power to help each student accomplish that goal.
Lazarou was nominated for the award by Taylor Rammrath, who will receive his degree in construction science from Texas A&M’s College of Architecture.
In addition to teaching, Lazarou also served as football coach. During his freshman year Rammrath had heard about “Coach Laz” and he quickly learned why so many students loved being around him.
Coach Laz didn’t preach that winning was everything, Rammrath adds. He was more focused on being a positive light in his students’ lives and getting them on the right track to greatness by the time they left high school.
Lazarou was always the first person at school each day and would talk to students as they arrived about the importance of not giving up on themselves, being leaders and mentors and challenging them make the future brighter. He also attended three lunch periods each day and sat with students so he could talk to them.
Rammrath says Lazarou was dedicated and, no matter what issue a student might have, he would try and help, always telling the student the truth and not just what they wanted to hear.
As Inspiration Award recipients, Hines and Lazarou will be given the opportunity to present their former students with their Texas A&M diplomas – an honor normally retained by the university president. In the past, graduating students who receive their diplomas from their award-winning teachers say that makes a special day even better, and the teachers say the best part of the award is getting to present a college diploma to one of their most memorable students.