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Education Alumna Wins First-Year Awards

By Mikhailina Karina

As a young girl in Kent, Ohio, Tamar Ridenour (B.A. '95, M.A. '96) missed only two days of school in six years. She was sick once in third grade and spent a day at home in
eighth grade, "distraught over breaking up with some boy." It's fair to say that Ridenour truly loved being in school, which presented a safe haven from her troubled home. It is also where, at only 10 years old, she discovered her professional calling.

At 25, Ridenour is still spending most of her days in school, now as a third-grade teacher at Greencastle Elementary in Silver Spring, Md. Her talent and dedication to teaching were quickly recognized by her peers: she recently received Sallie Mae Corporation's national award for the best first-year teacher in Maryland, as well as the Marian Greenblatt Excellence in Teaching award for the best first-year teacher in Montgomery County. Although receiving awards is flattering, Ridenour knows that she is just starting on a life's journey she hopes will take her all the way to becoming the U.S. Secretary of Education.

As the youngest of six children in a poor, single-parent household, Ridenour refused to settle for anything less than doing her best. She saw how alcoholism had wrecked her mother's life and how her siblings went down "wrong paths." Learning from others' mistakes, she was sure that "education was the way to go" if she ever wanted to escape poverty
Tamar Ridenour goes over a lesson with one of her students.
and make something of her life. After attending high school in Falls Church, Va., Ridenour used grants, loans, and scholarships to pay for her college education and graduated from George Mason University with a degree in Spanish. The following year, in 1996, she received her master's degree in early childhood education through Mason's rigorous Professional Development School program.

Ridenour praises Graduate School of Education (GSE) professor Mary Anne Lecos for organizing a strong practicum program. "We were given experience in a local school for the full year, from before school started until students were let out. I really got to know the life of a teacher." She also credits Herma Williams, another GSE professor, for "taking me under her wing and guiding me along the way." While a student at George Mason, Ridenour volunteered in AmeriCorps, participated in Head Start home visits with Spanish-speaking families, and attended a number of conferences for educators.

Although being a classroom teacher of young children is very fulfilling for Ridenour, she wants to become an advocate for educational policy, thus reaching millions of teachers and students nationwide. In a few years, she plans to return to a university for a doctorate in educational policy. She will then pursue a career as a principal, a superintendent, and ultimately, the Secretary of Education. If she occupied this Cabinet position today, she says she would create a system of accountability for all teachers, thus ridding schools of "bad" teachers and giving more financial incentives to recruit "good" teachers. Of course, Ridenour considers teaching one of the most important professions because "every school is a building with 'tomorrow' inside. We must maintain the highest expectations of our students, no matter what their socioeconomic and racial or ethnic background. I really believe that every student can succeed and achieve the highest academic standards."

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