MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Myra Betancourt’s face said it all. Her smile radiated as she made her way through hugs and handshakes to the front of the ballroom at the Trump International Doral Resort to receive the Golden Apple as the 2015 Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year.
“To be a teacher, you have to care for people, you have to have a good heart,” she told CBS4’s Brian Andrews.
Betancourt teaches life and career skills to students, some of whom are homeless, at the South Dade Educational Center. Her specialty is culinary arts.
“They are my family. I have one student who calls me Mama Chef. She’s 16, the youngest I have, we connect in a very special way. Without that connection, I would not be as successful as I am.”
Betancourt, originally form Puerto Rico, says there’s not a day that passes that she doesn’t look forward to going to work.
“It’s beyond teaching skills, it’s about teaching them life, my experiences, sharing my passion,” said Betancourt.
As a reward for Betancourt’s efforts, she will receive a new car, some spending money, and a scholarship credit toward courses at Nova Southeastern University.
This year’s runner-up for Teacher of the Year was Nicole Anne Dino of Miami Carol City Senior High School where she’s been teaching for nine years.
“Once I enter in the classroom, and I see smiling faces there, it makes me want to come to work,” said Dino.
Finalist Jason Saunders teaches Math, Science, and Social Studies at William Lehman Elementary.
“Going to work every day and seeing the kids’ faces is rewarding for me,” he said.
“It’s such an honor to be among such a great group of great teachers who feel dedicated to their craft,” said Finalist Kristin Trompeter who teaches new media at Rockway Middle.
Finalist Racquel Gibson of Lake Stevens Middle School says parental involvement is key to making sure children are learning. She says she wouldn’t trade her job for anything else.
“I have a chance to affect the future. Not many people can say that,” said Gibson.