While Scottsdale's high school seniors are getting ready to leave their school years behind, two soon-to-be graduates are looking forward to ending up right back in the classroom as educators, thanks to scholarships from the Scottsdale Charros.
Gianna Miller, a senior at Desert Mountain High School, and Claren Mortenson, a Chaparral High School senior, were revealed as recipients of this year's Charros Future Educators Scholarships at a banquet Friday night.
The annual awards pay for four years of tuition and living expenses for students to pursue teaching careers at any Arizona university - an award worth an estimated $62,000.
Both plan to seek their degrees at the University of Arizona.
Miller said she was in shock when she learned she won the prize in December.
She's wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember, a desire that was confirmed whenever she offered help to her classmates.
"Any time I understood something and someone else didn't, I've tried to help them," Miller said. "Seeing someone understand something, and I helped them, has always been a great feeling for me."
Mortenson said she couldn't think of anything she'd rather do than teach.
"Some teachers teach them what they need to know and get them through the day, but I want to be more than that," Mortenson said.
"I want them to ask 1,000 questions and want to know why. I want them to feel confident in their answers and grow up in a positive way," she said.
Mortenson said she thinks she wants to start out teaching third grade because, due to the emphasis on math, that was her favorite year in elementary school. Mortenson is currently taking Calculus 3 and Advanced Placement Statistics.
If Miller and Mortenson ultimately come back to Scottsdale to teach, they'll be joining two fellow Charros scholarship winners now teaching at their former schools after completing college.
Elizabeth Erwin, a 2003 Coronado High School graduate, is in her first year teaching seventh-grade social studies at her old middle school, Supai.
While there are more meetings than she expected, Erwin is glad she's making a difference in students' lives as a teacher. And though it's a "little weird" teaching at her old school, her students like it.
"The kids kind of think it's cool that I went to some of the same schools they went to, or are going to," Erwin said.
Jennifer Pennartz, who graduated from Arcadia High School in 2001, said she was thrilled to start teaching math at Arcadia three years ago - even though it meant getting used to calling her old teachers by their first names.
"They were waiting for me to be able to come back," Pennartz said. "I felt like part of the family."