Ralph Edison Reeves Jr. worked as a medical technologist and considered medical school before he turned to teaching.
"I never really intended to teach," he said. He has been a science teacher for more than two decades and has spent the past 13 years at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville.
Pauline Carey knew that she wanted to become a teacher at age 6. A newspaper photo of her handing an apple to her teacher on the first day of elementary school in her native New Jersey is one of her favorite keepsakes. She has been an educator for 29 years, including five years as a math, science and technology teacher at Mount Rainier Elementary School in Mount Rainier.
"It's an exciting thing for me to empower or lift someone up and then step back and watch them fly," she said.
Both Prince George's educators were honored Monday with The Washington Post Educational Foundation's Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award. The awards go to one private school teacher, screened by a committee of educators and community leaders through the Council for American Private Education, and 19 public school educators selected by their school districts around the region. Awards are based on nominations by principals, fellow teachers and students.
Now in its 20th year, the award is named for Agnes Ernst Meyer, an educator and activist who was the wife of Eugene Meyer, a former owner and publisher of The Washington Post. His grandson Donald Graham presented the awards Monday night at The Post building downtown.
Winners received a Tiffany apple and a check for $3,000.
Both Prince George's winners have earned praise for creating instructional programs and for taking extra time to work with students beyond the school day.
Reeves, 49, has been chairman of the science department at DeMatha for a decade. He is credited with reorganizing the department, offering biology instead of physical science to freshmen, and adding or expanding courses such as environmental chemistry and astronomy. Those changes have contributed to decisions by 80 percent of DeMatha's students to take four years of science, even though only three years are required, school officials said. Reeves also organized the first DeMatha Science Fair in 1996 and created a summer environmental science program for middle school students that included boat trips on the Chesapeake Bay.
"For many years at DeMatha, Rick has taught students who struggle in the sciences -- our below grade readers in freshman biology -- as well as our advanced placement students and all the others in between," DeMatha principal Daniel J. McMahon wrote in his nomination letter. "I know of few teachers in any discipline who can move seamlessly between levels of students and who can get all of those students excited about science."
Carey, 51, is not only a classroom teacher at Mount Rainier but also a resource teacher, mentoring many of her colleagues. She started a literacy project called Books on the Menu. As the school's online expert, she constantly upgrades computer equipment and makes sure the school has the latest software.
"Pauline's responsibilities are wide-ranging and far-reaching," said Mount Rainier Elementary principal Phil Catania, in his letter to the nomination committee. "She wears many hats, and each hat fits her perfectly."
Reeves, a North Carolina native, stumbled into teaching. One of his professors at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke suggested that he try it. Bored with his job as a medical technologist, he did. He's been teaching since 1977, first in South Carolina, where he became headmaster at Avalon Academy, a private school, and then in Maryland, where he's worked in three schools.
At one point several years ago, he thought he would turn to his environmental consulting business full-time. "My intention was to sort of get out of teaching," Reeves said.
That never happened. In 1990, the principal of DeMatha asked him to consider working at the school. "He sort of convinced me and it turned out to be a great experience," Reeves said.
Reeves said he tries to get his students to practice science, not just read about it. Each week, he takes some of his students to the Anacostia River to collect samples of the water for toxicity testing. "They like for teachers to do science, not just teach science," he said.
Carey, the daughter of English and Irish immigrants, has spent 22 years of her career teaching fifth- and sixth-graders, preparing them for the pressures of middle school.
"It's that last chance before you put them in almost a cruel world, if you know what I mean with middle school," she said. "You really want to give them a good footing."
She has three children, but has treated many of her students as her own, former students said. Some of those students still call her on her birthday or Mother's Day.
"Her door was always open and it fostered in me a sense of closeness with her that I did not have with other teachers," wrote Keith Adams, now a Montgomery County teacher who was in Carey's sixth grade class at Lewisdale Elementary School. "To this day, I still feel like one of her kids, because our relationship didn't end at the conclusion of the particular school year."