Paly students and parents gathered around the Quad as teachers and administrators awarded 61 students with the annual Rachel Austin Award on May 5. Recipients of this accolade were recognized for their efforts in striving towards academic excellence.
The ceremony was first establish in honor of Rachel Austin, a former Paly Home Economics teacher who was dedicated to learning and creating a strong teaching environment with other staff and students. Despite her fruitful 30 year career, a now-terminated education code forced Austin to retire earlier than she wished due to her age.
The ceremony began as visual and performing arts instructional leader Michael Najar introduced Austin’s legacy. During his speech, he said Austin maintained values that inspired her students and the administration at Paly during her years as a teacher, urging those around her to “do whatever you do in the very best way you can” and “develop and maintain loyalties to groups and institutions important you life.”
Although it has been more than 75 years since Austin began teaching at Paly, her beliefs are still remembered and honored today.
According to Math Instructional Leader Arne Lim, Austin expressed her love for teaching by donating a quarter of her estate to Paly when she passed away, which amounted to about $200 thousand.
Every year since then, students who receive a Rachel Austin Award are given a certificate and a check of $25 withdrawn from Austin’s original donation.
The eight departments at Paly, which include English, math, world languages, special education, social studies, science, career vocal education and visual and performing arts, chose two to three students from each grade level. According to Lim, each department determines its own criteria for this award, partly due to the different preferences teachers have when choosing students.
“Some teachers give it to top students,” Lim said. “Others award students who have really improved throughout the year.”
English 10A teacher Trinity Klein nominated several students during her years at Paly, including junior Sonny Young from last year, for a variety of reasons.
“He was a joy to have in class, (he was) always positive, engaged, and generous,” Klein said. “He excelled in all areas because of his hard work and love of learning.”
Freshman Owen Rice was called up to receive the award for striving academic excellence in biology.
Despite biology being one of his hardest classes, Rice notes his persistence in the classwork, participation and homework.
“I wasn’t expecting (the award). But it feels good to know that your teachers are looking out for you and are noticing all the hard work you put in.”
Sophomore Jasper Ahrends said he was not only honored that he received an award from the math department, but was especially gratified to see his parents react as his name was called.
Ahrends said, “My parents were so proud of me receiving this award because it proves to them that I try to do my best in school.”