- By Sonja Isger Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year toils in a room at the top of several flights of stairs, under a vaulted pecky cypress ceiling and surrounded by (life-sized cut-outs of) Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore and Dobby the house elf. Sarah Ray doesn’t teach magic, instead she magically makes meaning of AP Human Geography, Honors Economics and such for students at Dreyfoos School of the Arts.
An entourage of school administrators, led by a somewhat winded Superintendent Robert Avossa climbed those flights Wednesday to surprise Ray, 35, with the news that she was the one teacher in a district of 12,000 to earn the honor.
Also on hand was Ray’s mom, Jane Grandusky, a retired founding teacher at the arts school. To hear Ray tell it, mom introduced her to long hours at the premier arts school before the girl was old enough to spell audition.
“I was here at 7 a.m. and at 7 p.m.,” said Ray, who eventually graduated from Dreyfoos and returned to teach in 2014. “This was always my home.”
Ray thought she wanted to work in the world of costume design, but her students are thankful she changed her major midstream to history and a minor in education.
“There really aren’t words to say how great Mrs. Ray is,” said senior Isaac Acosta. “She puts in hard work, not only inside the classroom but outside. No one really deserves this as much as she does.”
Fellow senior Jared Hamilton agreed with an endorsement only a teacher can love: “This is the only class I show up to 100 percent of the time.”
Ray has a way of tapping technology and the teen world to attack a subject. One of her favorite lessons is making a dating game of modern governments. Students profile their assigned country and then speed date with other students’ countries to get a sense of things like how each country picks a leader, what makes their government tick and so on, taking notes all the way.
“She really knows how to energize students,” said Principal Susan Atherley. “And she sponsors everything.”
Ray has had a hand in advising student government, worked on prom, grad night and more. “Anything that needs to get done, the kids go to Mrs. Ray,” Atherley said. Snape, Dumbledore and Dobby? Cardboard cut outs left over from the senior Potter-themed pep rally.
Her work on the summer camp for aspiring Dreyfoos students, community service with one of the school’s clubs and helping her fellow social studies teachers round out her resume, but certainly don’t cover everything.
“She’s also a great catcher for the softball team,” said teacher Javy Mora.
As the county’s Teacher of the Year, Ray will get a $1,500 prize and she will be in consideration for the statewide title.