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Escondido teacher nominated for national ‘Lifechanger’ award

ESCONDIDO — Gwen Smith, a fourth-grade teacher at Escondido’s Pioneer Elementary School, is one of only dozens of school workers nationwide in the running to win a Lifechanger of the Year Award.

Administered by the National Life Group Foundation, Lifechangers “are the people in our schools who are making a positive difference for students,” according to the award’s website. Winners for the award will be selected in the beginning of 2020.

“We all know teachers and school district employees who inspire us and go above and beyond for their students,” explains the award’s website of the distinction. “They could be a physical education teacher who started a nonprofit to teach students about art and music, an administrator who visits the homes of students in need, or a maintenance worker who fundraises for school programs. These educators and school employees are LifeChangers, and we’re here to help you honor them.”

Gwen Smith

Smith received the nomination from her colleague at Pioneer Elementary School, Mary Courser.

“She puts her heart and soul into all that she does in her classroom and school. She makes her classroom comfortable for all of her students,” wrote Courser of Smith. “Ms. Smith spent her own money to design a great workspace for her students. She created the most awesome garden, all on her own! She maintains it and visits it during the summer, after a long drive to the school, to take care of the garden.”

Smith, according to the nomination application submitted by Courser, has also kept her students civically engaged. They did so by putting Mayor Paul McNamara in the hot seat, or as hot as it gets when in front of fourth-graders.

“This year, when the students were studying government, she invited the mayor of Escondido into her classroom,” wrote Courser. “The students prepared intelligent questions to ask ahead of the visit.”

Courser noted that Pioneer Elementary School has a socioeconomically disadvantaged student body. Some 82% of its students are federally eligible for free lunch, while 91% of its students are Hispanic.

“If she knows a student needs something, she will buy it herself, regardless of the cost,” wrote Courser. “She is all about improving the lives of her students.”

The selection committee for the LifeChanger award consists of past winners, as well as higher education professionals. Winning applicants must “make a positive impact in the lives of students,” “enhance their school or district’s atmosphere, culture and pride,” among other criteria.

Those who finish as the top-five finalists will receive an all-expenses paid trip to The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida. The Grand Prize winner also gets $10,000 to be split between the winner and his or her school district.

The other four finalists will each get a $5,000 lump sum to split, while the next 10 thereafter will each get a $3,000 pot of money to split between themselves and their school districts. The next 30 TO 35 nominees selected by the committee will receive a $50 Visa gift card, “as well as some surprise goodies.”

“I have been teaching for 20 years and have never known a better teacher. She deserves this more than anyone I have ever known,” Courser wrote.