Honors From Oprah
For 16 years, Rafe Esquith and his students have lived by the four-word mission statement that rules his classroom at Hobart Elementary School in central Los Angeles: Be nice. Work hard.
Mr. Esquith and his 5th graders work 11 hours a day, 50 weeks a year, studying literary classics, learning music, sharpening math skills, and preparing for an annual production of a Shakespeare play. Many students study those subjects in before- and after-school programs. And some of his former students come back each Saturday for the teacher's college-prep tutorial program.
Their commitment has paid off in higher test scores, national recognition, and, for many, acceptance to top universities.
But there was another payoff last month, when Mr. Esquith received a $100,000 Use Your Life Award on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which is syndicated by King World.
Ms. Winfrey has been giving away the awards on her popular daytime talk show each week since April.
Mr. Esquith, 46, who has taken Hobart's Shakespeareans to perform for members of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington and the Globe Theatre in London, intends to use the money to buy instruments, books, and a van to transport students and equipment to performances. He also hopes to expand the program.
The teacher started the program at the school—whose 2,300 students are predominantly Hispanic and poor—to help give his students a better chance at academic success.
"I'm honored to have Oprah as one of my supporters," said Mr. Esquith, who was nominated anonymously for the award.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Vol. 20, Issue 10, Page 3