2019 "Pass the Torch" Scholarship Finalists


Now in its second year, the Teachers Test Prep "Pass the Torch" Teacher Scholarships program continues to grow. We received more than twice the number of video entries of last year and again awarded $10,000 in scholarships.

This year, aspiring educators were asked to record a short video telling us about a teacher who inspired them and what they learned from that teacher that they would like to pass on to the students they will teach.

From the vast pool of entries received from around the country, five elementary education and five secondary education finalists were chosen. All ten finalists received a $100 Amazon gift card and one year of free access to any of our Core Plus Online Prep Programs to help them pass the credentialing exams required by their state, such as the Praxis, CSET or FTCE.

The stories finalists told differed markedly in style, ranging from sincere, unadorned personal testimonies to deftly-crafted multimedia narratives. However, each inspired us, made us think and feel, and left us convinced that the entrant would one day be a great teacher who we wanted to see in a classroom.

The finalists and scholarship recipients are below. Our two recipients were each awarded a $5,000 scholarship.


Madison Theil photo

Madison Theil (Miami University, OH)

Teacher: Ms. Mary Rekers

“Ms. Mary has given me a glimpse into a more human, more compassionate, more generous way of teaching.”

As a child, Madison Theil feared she might have to give up the piano lessons she loved because her parents couldn’t afford them – but her music teacher Ms. Mary helped her find a way to continue. Now teaching alongside Ms. Mary at music camps, Madison continues to bear witness to this same commitment, resourcefulness and generosity of spirit, in a teacher who continually strives to ensure that no child misses out.

Click here to watch Madison's story about Ms. Rekers.


Caitlin Carlson photo

Caitlin Carlson (James Madison University, VA)

Teacher: Mrs. Diane McGilloway

“We came into Mrs. McGilloway’s class every day thinking that we couldn’t do something, and we left knowing that we could. I want to help my students believe in themselves like that and realize their truly great potential.”

Gifted Education teacher, Mrs. Diane McGilloway, challenged her class to work hard and not be held back by limiting beliefs about themselves. Now, Caitlin Carlson wants to carry this legacy forward, creating inspiring, interdisciplinary lessons where students understand the purpose of what they are taught and use this knowledge to discover the vast potential each of them holds. 

Click here to watch Caitlin's story about Mrs. McGilloway.

Lindsay Cleary photo

Lindsay Cleary (Rutgers University, NJ)

Teacher: Mrs. Silver

“This teacher took that chance for me – one student – to remind me that I can still be strong and that I can still be a powerful person no matter what other people say to me and it just depends on what I do with my life from here.”

The compassionate words of math teacher Mrs. Silver had a profound effect on Lindsay Cleary when she was experiencing bullying in high school, helping her find empowerment and self-determination and offering her reassurance for the future. As a teacher, Lindsay wants to be this same voice of empathy for her students, supporting not only those who are being bullied, but also those who have channelled their pain into bullying behaviors. Her ultimate goal is to create an environment where all students build each other up and grow stronger together.

Click here to watch Lindsay's story about Mrs. Silver.

Michelle Highsmith photo

Michelle Highsmith (Anderson University, SC)

Teacher: Miss Hamilton

“As an adult who still struggles with a perfectionist tendency, I can hear her voice in my head telling me that mistakes are not just a part of the learning process, but an opportunity to be learned from.”

For Scottish student Michelle Highsmith, Miss Hamilton exemplified the ideal teacher, devising exciting and innovative lessons that allowed students to follow their personal interests and draw on their particular skills. Knowing that she was seen as an individual enabled Michelle, as a young perfectionist, to gain the confidence to make mistakes and grow. Now, many years later and living on the other side of the world, the lessons she learned in Miss Hamilton’s classroom still resonate with her as she prepares to become a teacher herself.

Click here to watch Michelle's story about Miss Hamilton.

Jessica Kircher photo

Jessica Kircher (California State University Channel Islands, CA)

Teacher: Mrs. Betty Gubler

“One day you will have walls covered with your beautiful creations. Enjoy your wonderful talent. Love, Mrs. Gubler.”

As a third-grade student, Jessica Kircher was given a special gift by her teacher: an art book with a handwritten message encouraging her to enjoy her unique artistic talent. To this day, Jessica treasures this book, a reminder of the teacher who helped her feel seen and valued during a difficult time in her life and set her on the path to becoming the artist —and aspiring teacher— she is today.

Click here to watch Jessica's story about Mrs. Gubler.


Yaritza (Yaya) Villa photo

Yaritza (Yaya) Villa (Mount Saint Mary’s University, CA)

Teacher: Ms. Cheryl Old

“I was in a slump: I didn’t care about working, I didn’t care about school, I was just angry and fed-up with the world. My teacher saw all this and was not going to let my potential go to waste.”

For the first few years of her schooling, Yaritza Villa didn’t fit in, placed in a succession of classrooms where she spoke the wrong language, was the wrong age or ability level – or simply wasn’t accepted. Frustrated and unmotivated, she was ready to give up on school when her third-grade teacher, Ms. Old, came along – and ignited her passion for learning. Today, Yaritza is a strong advocate for the power of education, planning to become a physics teacher and share her infectious enthusiasm for science with her students.

Click here to watch Yaritza's story about Ms. Old.


Marco Paulo Aquinde photo

Marco Paulo Aquinde (High Tech High Graduate School of Education, CA)

Teacher: Ms. Aimee Adviento

“I found my voice … I learned how to be a better human being as a result of being under her direction.”

Marco Paulo Aquinde’s choir teacher did more than just teach him to sing – she taught him to become a kinder and more empathetic person. Conducting all classroom conversations with love and compassion, but never condescending to her students, “Mrs. A”, as she was fondly known, challenged her students to reflect on themselves and their beliefs – while at the same time modeling a firm commitment to her subject. Having found his calling as an educator, Marco hopes to bring Ms. Adviento’s distinctive voice of warmth and humanity to the students he will soon teach.

Click here to watch Marco's story about Ms. Adviento. 

Alexa Arboleda photo

Alexa Arboleda (Johns Hopkins University/Urban Teachers, DC)

Teacher: Mr. Reynafarje

“Excellent teachers stand on the shoulders of the giants who taught them.”

It was geometry teacher Mr. Reynafarje’s teaching of the Pythagorean theorem which shaped Alexa Arboleda as both learner and educator. Rigorous, methodical and varied in his approach, Mr. Reynafarje taught math as a real-world skill, transferable to other parts of life. Now an aspiring secondary teacher, Alexa wants to carry his pedagogy into the English classroom, encouraging her students to break down problems, apply different approaches to the same question and test the veracity of answers and ideas.

Click here to watch Alexa's story about Mr. Reynafarje.

Amy Lam photo

Amy Lam (Santa Clara University, CA)

Teacher: Mr. Moreno

“Mr. Moreno was … the only teacher in my high school career who challenged my ability and my 'smartness' and taught me that it is OK to make mistakes, it’s OK to fail, but it’s also important to be able to bounce right back up.”

Amy Lam was a straight-A student when she dropped out of Mr. Moreno’s demanding AP History class because she was worried about her grades dropping. Bored and unchallenged in the class she transferred to, Amy decided to give Mr. Moreno’s class another try. Under his tutelage, she gained the confidence to push herself and risk failure, and came to learn important lessons about persistence, resilience – and how grades aren’t the only thing that matters. As a future math teacher, Amy wants to work in under-served communities like the one she grew up in and challenge the link between poverty and educational inequity.

Click here to watch Amy's story about Mr. Moreno. 

Michael Raines photo

Michael Raines (Mississippi State University, MS)

Teacher: Mrs. Garrett

“What she helped me understand was what effort was, what effort looked like, what it took to get things done … I’ve never had a teacher that cared like that.”

Growing up, Michael Raines was more concerned with survival than with education. From an impoverished family where “no-one made it out of eighth grade,” he was struggling at school and felt overlooked by teachers unwilling to see past his tough reputation. Mrs. Garrett changed all that, taking a personal interest in him and encouraging him to persist when he felt he couldn’t possibly succeed. As a teacher, Michael aims to likewise support students who are struggling, reminding educators of the importance of recognizing the complex home situations which often underlie student disaffection.

Click here to watch Michael's story about Mrs. Garrett.


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