McHenry High School teacher Otto Corzo was getting set to teach his students some dances Friday when he was surprised with a statewide award for excellence in teaching.
The moment was emblematic of the kind of teacher Corzo is, Principal Jeff Prickett said.
Surrounded by his students, as well as his wife and daughter, Corzo was awarded the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, becoming one of 10 award recipients this year across the state.
“I’m a little speechless and definitely emotional,” Corzo said in remarks to those assembled. “It’s very validating of what I’ve been showing up to do. … I am very much humbled … and seriously floored.”
The award is aimed at recognizing teachers for their roles in having a lasting, positive effect on students’ lives, according to a news release from the Golden Apple Foundation. There were more than 400 nominees.
“He’s the ultimate advocate for kids,” Prickett said. “[Everyone] knows he’s a safe space to go to. In the classroom, he makes learning come alive. … He brings culture into the classroom.”
In addition to teaching Spanish for Heritage, Corzo is the adviser to the school’s Subelement Breakdance Club and the Latinx American Student Organization. He has been a teacher for 15 years, with the past six at McHenry High School.
Corzo said he had “absolutely no idea” about the award. The only thing that was odd, he said, was how excited his daughter, Laila, seemed Friday morning.
“She just kept smiling at me and I was like, ‘What is going on?’ ” he said. “I don’t know how long they’ve all known.”
As part of the award, Corzo will receive $5,000 and a spring sabbatical, which is provided by Northwestern University, according to a release.
The award also represents a sort of full circle for Corzo, who in 1998 was a Golden Apple Scholar, said Pam Witmer, director of staff at the Golden Apple Foundation. Corzo said that aspect makes it “more powerful.”
“You care so deeply about your students,” Witmer said to Corzo when presenting the award. “You create a safe environment for everyone to learn and reach their highest potential.”