October 22, 2012 12:00 PM

Each of us can remember a teacher who helped set us on the right path. For some children, it’s the person who simply gets them excited about a brand-new subject; for others a great teacher can mean the difference between making it to college or not, between a lifetime of success or a world of failure.

Given this vital role teachers play, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the winners of our first PEOPLE Teacher of the Year contest. In July we received hundreds of applications from talented educators around the country. The stories in many were extraordinary and the choice was hard. But with the help of an accomplished board of advisors-award-winning kindergarten teacher Kimberly Oliver Burnim, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District Dr. John Deasy, National Education Association vice president Lily Eskelsen, Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp and musician and philanthropist John Legend-we chose five winners. Some of these men and women are relatively new to teaching, others have logged some two decades in the classroom. They teach our littlest kids and troubled high-schoolers. They instill a love of reading, of math, of science and of music. Their work both inside the classroom and out demonstrates a selfless passion for their kids-and produces outstanding results. As Brittanie LaCour, a senior at Rauner College Prep, says about one of the winners: “Mr. Vega has helped me believe anything is possible if you work hard enough for it.”

With support from our partner, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, our winners received a trip to New York and a $5,000 prize to be shared with their schools. Please join me in honoring Jennifer Bohn, Brian Copes, Elizabeth Curran, Arwen Imai Matthews and Robert Vega. Their inspiring stories begin on page 114.


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