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Alumna Wins Disney Teaching Award

"Self Portrait" taken by Carla Woyak, M.S.Ed '93 and her patient, Leslie.

By Carrie Secondo
Carla Hart Woyak, M.S.Ed. '93, won the "honor of a lifetime this year" when she was one of 36 finalists chosen out of 75,000 nominees to receive a Disney American Teacher Award. Woyak was nominated for the award by her student Leslie, an 11-year-old cystic fibrosis patient at Phoenix Children's Hospital in Arizona, where Woyak is a special education teacher.

Unsure it would be possible in the hospital, Leslie told Woyak she wanted to do a science project for her school's science fair. Leslie's project idea--baking batches of chocolate chip cookies and leaving out different ingredients to find out how the taste differed--may have been impossible if Woyak hadn't sprung into action. She made the initial arrangements--from reserving a kitchen and gathering ingredients, to recruiting doctors to serve as taste testers--and left the baking up to Leslie.

The project won Leslie a blue ribbon at her school's science fair, and in turn, Leslie secretly nominated Woyak for the Disney award.

"The bittersweet irony of this whole thing was that Leslie died before I found out about the award," Woyak says. "I didn't even know she had nominated me because she had kept it a secret, wanting it to be 'the best thank you gift ever.'"

Last year was the first time Disney offered a category specifically for special education teachers, and Woyak became the first hospital teacher to win the award. Each finalist won $2,500 and a trip to Disneyland, in Los Angeles. In July, Woyak joined the 36 other finalists at Disney World in Orlando for a professional development seminar.

Woyak contributes her success as a teacher to the education she received in the special education graduate program at George Mason: "My experience at George Mason has helped shape me as a teacher. I have taught in many states, from Virginia to Indiana to Arizona, and I can honestly say I have not seen universities in these states produce the types of teachers like George Mason has done and continues to do."


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