Gerard Yavo, information technology teacher at Forest Park High School, had no idea what was coming his way Wednesday afternoon.
As he walked through the cafeteria doors, at approximately 3:20 p.m., he was suddenly greeted by a room full of people showering him with cheers and applause, as if he were a conquering hero home from the battlefield.
With help from the school's principal, Derrick Manning, representatives of the Atlanta Falcons Football Team, and Symetra Financial made a surprise visit to honor Yavo, who had been selected as a "hero," through the Symetra Heroes in the Classroom program.
The initiative honors K-12 teachers, who demonstrate the ability to help students achieve long-term success, academically, and it provides essential funding for various school projects.
Fellow Forest Park teacher, Jujuan Wright, nominated Yavo for the award. Wright said when he was a coach last year at the school, he received information on a grant from the Atlanta Falcons, that could be used to purchase new athletic equipment for the school. From that encounter, he said, he got an e-mail about the Symetra Heroes in the Classroom program.
"I couldn't think of a better person to [nominate]," said Wright. He added that he filled out the application and submitted it. On Wednesday, he said, he was just as surprised as Yavo to learn that Yavo was one of the 16 Georgia teachers to be selected for the honor.
Manning said what makes Yavo so deserving has a lot to do with his "dedication to the students and the community. Mr. Yavo is a very knowledgeable teacher," said Manning. "He's our go-to person whenever we have issues with our computers."
Students, and especially teachers, have a lot of respect for him and what he does in the classroom everyday, Manning added.
Wright agreed, and said when he first arrived at Forest Park High School, it was Yavo who took him under his wing and mentored him. "Just watching his dedication [by] coming to work everyday and [seeing] his willingness to help people [is inspiring]," Wright said.
Yavo said he has been teaching at the school for 10 years, and was "at a lost for words," when he came through the cafeteria doors.
"Overwhelmed," he said, was the first word that came to mind when he tried to describe his emotions. "It [the award] never crossed my mind," he said, "I'm definitely overwhelmed."
He said his dedication to his students and the school is his number one priority, and that he will use this recognition, and the award, to motivate his students to be the best they can be. "It's all about the students," he said, "anything I do is all about the betterment of the students."
Yavo and Forest Park High School were also awarded $1,000 for classroom supplies, which Manning said will be used to replace the carpet in the school's computer lab, where Yavo teaches his technology information classes.
Mike Cometa, marketing assistant for the Atlanta Falcons, and Janean Courtney, vice president at Sun Trust Bank, presented Yavo with a ticket to a 2011 Falsons football game, a team jersey, a promotional football, a sideline pass, and other gifts.
In addition to that, Cometa said, during the game he attends, Yavo will be honored on the video screen at the Georgia Dome.
"This is a team that I love," Yavo said, with a voice filled with enthusiasm. "I went to a game during the pre-season, but this is an opportunity to go and meet the whole team."