Kellie Schenck awards 9 Aspen teachers, 1 custodian total $100,000 this week

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
5th Grade Aspen Middle School teacher Natalie DeFelice gets emotional as she accepts the 2018 Kellie Schenck award from Kellie's parents, pictured, on Friday morning at the District Theater. She’s been teaching since 2002, and is a long-time veteran of Aspen Middle School.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Aspen School District 2018 “Kellie Schenck award” recipients:

--Bill Boyd, Aspen Middle School, 7th grade language arts and project-based learning teacher

--Natalie DeFelice, Aspen Middle School, 5th grade teacher

--Brandy Keleher, Aspen Middle School, 8th grade science teacher

--Diane Godfrey, Aspen Middle School, computer science and coding teacher

--Edgar Lazo, Aspen Middle School, head custodian

--Jennifer Morandi Benson, Aspen High School, social studies teacher

--Sarah Benson, Aspen High School, science teacher

--Tana Rinaldi, Aspen Elementary School, kindergarten teacher

--Jared Thompson, Aspen Elementary School, Physical Education teacher

--Julie Zats, Aspen Elementary and Aspen Middle schools, “Ascent Program” teacher

Natalie DeFelice hopes she is making her former colleague and late friend Kellie Schenck — a name synonymous with outstanding teachers at all three Aspen schools — proud every single day.

At Aspen Middle School’s final assembly of the year Friday, an emotional DeFelice, three fellow teachers and one custodian were surprised with winning one of the district’s highest honors: the Kellie Schenck Award (previously known as the Distinguished Teacher Award) and $10,000 as part of the prize.

A beloved fifth-grade teacher who died in 2015, Schenck was one of two inaugural winners of the Distinguished Teacher Award in 2000.

Schenck’s parents, Jim and Diane Morgan, attended Friday’s assembly to help recognize the teachers and staff members at the school where their daughter worked for two decades.

The two said they are at a loss for words to express what the award and their daughter’s impact on hundreds of students means to them.

“I know it sounds corny,” Jim said, “but it’s been three years and we think of (Kellie) every single day.”

Earlier this week, five teachers between the elementary and high schools also received Kellie Schenck awards at their respective assemblies, to total 10 Aspen School District staff members.

Aspen philanthropist and businessman Dick Butera created and funded the Distinguished Teacher Award from 2000 to 2010.

Inspired by Schenck and her legacy, in 2016, Butera re-established and renamed the award in her honor.

To date, Butera’s contributions to local teachers total more than $1.3 million.

His motive is simple: “To reward my heroes.”

“Teachers are the most under-appreciated and underpaid people in the community,” Butera said, “and they are the most important people in the community for obvious reasons.”

For teachers like high school social studies educator Jennifer Morandi-Benson, the Kellie Schenck honor is “truly life-changing.”

Aspen School District head custodian Edgar Lazo said via a student translator that he was “really emotional and excited by this surprise.”

Lazo said he will use the money toward his three children who are relocating to the valley in two weeks from El Salvador, where he is from.

DeFelice, who now teaches in Schenck’s former classroom, said her reward also would likely benefit her 4- and 7-year-old sons’ college funds.

“I can’t stop crying,” DeFelice said as she hugged her students. “I’m just so grateful and honored.”