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Foundation to honor state’s top educators, students at 35th Academic Awards Celebration

By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence will honor five outstanding Oklahoma educators, along with 100 of the state’s top public high school seniors when hosting its 35th Academic Awards Celebration. The event will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 22, at the Cox Business Convention Center, in downtown Oklahoma City. 

Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, attendance for the 2021 Academic Awards Celebration is limited to honorees and their registered family members.

The public is encouraged to view the awards ceremony broadcast at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 29, or 10 a.m. Sunday, May 30, on OETA Public Television. The broadcast will also be available on the foundation’s website at ofe.org.

“Rising Above, Going Beyond” is the theme for this year’s celebration, which will feature a keynote address by award-winning teacher and education activist Erin Gruwell. She is the collaborative author of “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around them.” 

Emmy Award-winning television journalist Scott Thompson – an Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence trustee – will serve as the emcee for the afternoon ceremony honoring “the best of the best” in Oklahoma’s public schools. Foundation Trustee Ken Busby, executive director and CEO of the Route 66 Alliance, serves as chair of the event.

“The Academic Awards Celebration is such an inspiring, entertaining, and important event for public education in Oklahoma,” Busby said. “Some have described it as the ‘Academy Awards’ of public education in Oklahoma because we really roll out the red carpet to honor extraordinary teachers and students. Top that off with an inspiring address by educator Erin Gruwell, and you have a very memorable celebration.”

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is a nonprofit, charitable organization founded in 1985 by then-U.S. Sen. David Boren to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools.

Through its Academic Awards Program, the foundation has awarded more than $5 million in merit-based scholarships and cash awards to honor outstanding graduating seniors as Academic All-Staters and exceptional educators as Medal for Excellence winners.

The foundation will present its 2020-21 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence Award in Elementary Teaching to Michelle Rahn, a sixth-grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher at Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore. The award for Secondary Teaching will go to Shelley Self, an art teacher at Coweta High School.

The Excellence Award in Elementary/Secondary Administration will honor Chuck McCauley, superintendent of Bartlesville Public Schools; in Regional University/Community College Teaching to Dr. David Bass, professor of biology at the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond; and in Research University Teaching to Dr. Edralin Lucas, professor of nutritional sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater.

The honorees, who were unable to be recognized in person in 2020 due to the pandemic, will receive awards at this year’s ceremony. 

Each Medal for Excellence recipient receives a $5,000 cash award as well as a glass “Roots and Wings” sculpture.

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, with support from scholarship sponsors, will also present merit-based Academic All-State Scholarships of $1,000 each and medallions to 100 Academic All-State Scholars. 

The 2021 Academic All-State class is derived from 77 schools in 69 Oklahoma school districts. The honorees were selected from 379 nominations in what is described by Boren as “Oklahoma’s most rigorous academic awards selection process.”  

Davenport, Porum, Soper and Stigler high schools will celebrate their first Academic All-Stater.

For more information on the Academic Awards Celebration and this year’s honorees, visit the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence website at ofe.org or call 405-236-0006.

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence will present its 2020-21 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence Award in Elementary Teaching to Michelle Rahn (left) from Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore and the award for Secondary Teaching will go to Shelley Self, from Coweta High School. Photos provided.
(L-R) The Excellence Award in Elementary/Secondary Administration will honor Chuck McCauley, superintendent of Bartlesville Public Schools; in Regional University/Community College Teaching to Dr. David Bass, professor of biology at the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond; and in Research University Teaching to Dr. Edralin Lucas, professor of nutritional sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. Photos provided.