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2 Teachers Go to Head of Class With Awards for Excellence

The Los Angeles and Inglewood educators win $25,000 each from the Milken Family Foundation. They're among 145 to be honored in the nation.

October 15, 2000|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Two Southland elementary school teachers earlier this month got the surprise of their lives--better even than polished red apples left on their desks by adoring students.

Charles de Seriere, a former supermarket manager, and Jamila Banks, a bilingual teacher severely afflicted with the travel bug, were presented with $25,000 National Educator Awards by the Milken Family Foundation.

"I'm shocked. I just can't believe this," said de Seriere, 33, the son of Dutch-Indonesian parents who emigrated from Holland in the 1960s. A fifth-grade instructor and counselor known to his students as "Mr. D," he teaches at Beulah Payne Elementary School in Inglewood.

Banks, 27, who has taught only since 1996, knew that she had been nominated for a prize but had no idea that she would win--or that it would be so lucrative. Unsuspecting, she took a break from her maternity leave to attend a rally at Loreto Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, where she received the award.

In the view of the selection panel, de Seriere and Banks personify the kinds of teachers who go the extra mile to help students and colleagues.

"She's a new teacher but has definitely had a great influence on our staff in terms of multiculturalism," said Nancy Parachini, Loreto's principal.

Kindergarten teacher Banks helped develop a diversity workshop for teachers called Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges, the objective of which is to foster success and achievement among African American and Latino students.

A native of Los Angeles, Banks said she decided to work at her predominantly Latino school, near Dodger Stadium, because of its philosophy of social justice and equal access to education for all students. Seventy-eight percent of the 630 pupils are not yet fluent in English. More than 96% qualify under a federal program for free or reduced-price lunches.

Banks traveled for two months last year through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala for Odyssey World Trek, a nonprofit program in San Francisco. She researched the history of indigenous cultures and helped conduct a live online interview with Rigoberta Menchu, the Maya activist who won the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize. The interview was seen by kindergarten through 12th-grade students worldwide.

Banks attended public and private schools in Los Angeles before graduating from Howard University in Washington, D.C. A firm believer in bilingual education, she said she thinks she was singled out for the Milken award because of her "dedication to professional development."

She gave birth to her son, Xavier, in August and will be on leave until March. She plans to use her award money for a down payment on a house and to start saving for her son's education.

De Seriere, the father of 8-year-old Ashley, is known for having as much energy as the fifth-graders he teaches.

Two years ago, he helped raise money to take 30 fourth-graders, most of them from immigrant homes, to Gray Davis' inauguration as governor in Sacramento.

Reared on welfare along with five siblings, de Seriere, whose nickname is Andy, attended school in Inglewood and Lennox. He earned a degree in library studies from Cal State Dominguez Hills and also attended UCLA, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount.

He has helped develop mediation and conflict resolution programs for students, and promotes the notion that pupils should work as a team, both inside and outside the classroom.

"I believe students have an intrinsic interest in doing well," he said. "They must take responsibility for their own education."

De Seriere, delighted with his hefty windfall, expects his first purchase to be for his daughter--"the loft bed from Ikea she has wanted forever."

De Seriere and Banks were among 145 outstanding educators from 42 states recognized by the Milken Family Foundation.

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