Third-grade teacher Adela Solis received a grand surprise birthday gift Monday, even it if was a day late.
Solis, a nine-year veteran of the Lawrence district, was named the district's 2002 elementary teacher of the year at a ceremony at East Heights School.
"My mother told me to dress up, but I didn't know why," Solis said.
On her birthday Sunday, aside from the fashion tip from mom, Solis' friends and family were able to keep quiet about their knowledge of her selection. They made up for it Monday at the presentation, showering Solis with hugs, kisses and congratulations.
Testimonials were plentiful after the all-school assembly.
"She is passionate about educating kids," East Heights teacher Joy Lominska said. "She is also a fighter if children's welfare is involved."
Solis said her best quality was relentless championing of students.
"In my opinion, I'm their best advocate," she said.
In the halls of East Heights, she's known among students as tough but fair.
"She knows a lot of history," third-grader Kyle Edwards said. "She acts mean, but she's nice."
Classmate Sheleah White added: "She gives us hard work ... and I like that."
Solis, who taught seven years in Albuquerque, N.M., before moving to Lawrence, serves on Lawrence Education Assn. and Kansas Department of Education committees.
She's also a teacher in one of the district's high-tech elementary classrooms, which is outfitted with a laptop computer for every student.
In Lawrence, she's also taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades.
"It's nice, now and again, for people to know how hard you work," Solis said.
Solis will represent the Lawrence district in the state's teacher of the year competition. Jeanne Averill of Lawrence High School is the district's secondary teacher of the year and will be entered in the state competition.
Previous Lawrence elementary winners are Gretchen Lehman of Kennedy School, Jan Dicker of Grant School, Jeff McAdoo of Quail Run School, Sherry Nelson of Sunflower School and Elaine Schmidt of Quail Run.