YONKERS, N.Y. -- Summer is a time of countless graduations and moving up ceremonies honoring the achievements of students. So much so, it can be easy to forget who helped them get those diplomas in the first place: their teachers.
However, that's not the case in Yonkers. The city demonstrated its appreciation for its teachers in an award ceremony at scenic Untermyer Park on Tuesday, honoring an elementary, middle and high school teacher for their exceptional teaching throughout the year and over the course of their careers.
The 2014 award winners were Benay Umrichin of Montessori School 31, Maria Hadala of Enrico Fermi School for the Performing Arts and America Vazquez-Santiago of Charles E. Gorton High School
Several teachers were nominated by their colleagues, students and parents thereof, and award winners were decided by Mayor Mike Spano in conjunction with Superintendent Dr. Michael Yazurlo and the Board of Education.
"Everyone has a story of a teacher who meant a lot to them," Mayor Spano said. "I know I do. They are people who changed the course of our lives."
Superintendent Dr. Michael Yazurlo said teachers should be thanked for their long lasting influence on all people across all demographics.
"There's no other opportunity our children have if they don't have quality teachers," he said. "You are meeting three of them today."
Hadala, a physical education teacher, was honored by two of her colleagues for her longtime dedication to Enrico Fermi and its children, including decking her house for Halloween and giving candy out to hundreds of children.
Vazquez-Santiago was commended by Gaily Joyner-White, principal of Gorton, for her long journey that brought her to teaching, and her nonstop dedication behind the scenes to help students believe in themselves and succeed.
In her acceptance speech, Vazquez-Santiago shared her teaching philosophy: "Yes, you can."
Emma Morello, a previous student of Umrichin's, presented her with the award, recounting Umrichin's generous, kind spirit and love for her students.
"She is a very optimistic teacher who is fun to be around and talk to," she said.
Umrichin, who has taught in Yonkers for 15 years, said of receiving her award: "Being honored today just let me know that everything that I do is worth it. I knew it before, but this is kind of the exclamation point at the end of that sentence."