The stories would be hard to believe without hearing them firsthand - a teacher who is an unconditional advocate for her students, makes house calls and interrupts her own weekend plans for her students’ benefits.
But that’s Penny Ellis, the special education teacher at Oceanside High School whose colleagues, students and their parents sang her praises live on national television Monday morning.
Ellis, 54, who has taught at Oceanside for 21 years and helped pilot the district’s special education program, was chosen as a top teacher in the second annual Top Teacher search held by morning talk show “LIVE! with Regis and Kelly.”
For making it to the top five, Ellis was asked to appear on the show Monday, when a segment filmed last week at Oceanside High School - catching Ellis in action and interviewing those around her - was aired.
At the show, Ellis found out she had also won a free trip to Italy and five interactive whiteboards for her classroom. Viewers of the show will have the opportunity to vote for the top teacher on Friday and that teacher will win a Ford Focus and $20,000 for their school.
“It’s incredible,” Ellis said, still in shock after returning from the show in New York City Monday night.
Ellis’ Life Skills class aims to prepare special education students for life after graduation. Ellis paired with organizations in the community to provide her students with daily volunteer opportunities, which has often led them to part-time jobs after graduation.
Mary Bores, the teacher’s aide who nominated Ellis for the honor, said Ellis gives students the self confidence, reassurance and practical skills they need to succeed.
“Our students are everywhere because of her and what she’s created,” she said. “She’s exceptional.”
Teachers chosen to appear on the show were provided transportation to the Manhattan studio, dinner in the city and tickets to a Broadway show. Ellis said seven of her students, teacher’s aides, and parents were also invited to the green room to meet Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa.
Ellis said it was an overwhelming and humbling experience.
“I was just so happy that they were able to encourage parents all over the world to thank teachers and to show their appreciation,” she said. “It’s a very special tribute.”