Four area teachers who were finalists in the Amazing Teacher contest sponsored by the News-Star and Patriot Auto Group have been awarded $250 each for classroom projects.

Courtney Bullen of Jefferson Elementary, Lori Farris of Grove School, Becki Powell of Meeker High School and Amber Rudek of North Rock Creek Elementary were named Amazing Teacher finalists following a nomination process and online voting period.

Each teacher will receive $250 to use however they wish for their classroom. Amazing Teacher LaTasha McCormick of Earlsboro High School had the most votes and was awarded the $500 grand prize.

Each of the four finalists plan to put their funds to good use in their classrooms. Read more about each of the four finalists below:

Courtney Bullen, Jefferson Elementary

Bullen, who teaches all subjects, has been an educator at Jefferson Elementary in Shawnee for the past seven years.

“I wanted to be a teacher from a very early age. I had an amazing 4th grade teacher — the way she taught and the things she did for us has always stuck with me. Going to school always provided stability in my life and I wanted the opportunity to give that same support back into the world,” Bullen said.

“As a finalist for the Amazing Teacher in Shawnee, I feel extremely honored. It was such an exciting experience to have with my family, friends, and students. I am very thankful to be apart of a school district and community that supports my love for teaching,” she said.

Her classroom project idea is to purchase tablets for her students, which will allow them the ability to access the online programs they us frequently.

Lori Farris, Grove School

Lori Farris, a career teacher, just began seventh year at Grove School in Shawnee. She teachesAlgebra I, Pre-Algebra, 6th Grade Math and Gifted Education, and she also coaches the four FIRST LEGO League robotics teams.

“This is the 28th year I have taught. I became a teacher because I want to be a part of making sure that we have the best community/state/country/world possible,” she said. “I love seeing students have those 'aha' moments.”

Farris said this honor “shows me that my students' parents believe in me as a teacher, and they feel that I am making a difference in their children's lives.”

Farris plans to use the $250 for supplies that her students can use in creating their own inventions, while also teaching them the Engineering Design Process.

“I appreciate both Patriot Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Chandler and Shawnee News Star for making this happen,” Farris said. “Teachers spend so much of their own paychecks to make sure their students are learning. All support is needed and appreciated.”

Becki Powell, Meeker High School

Powell began her teacher career at Tecumseh Middle School, where she conducted her student teaching, then spent seven more years teaching all three grades at different times.

“Following my last year at Tecumseh, I followed my husband's military service to San Antonio where I earned a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in Instructional Technology,” she said, adding this is her fifth year teaching at Meeker.

She currently teaches physical science, chemistry, and ACT Prep, but she has also taught biology I, biology II, and physics.

“I chose to teach because I truly love it when I see my students making new connections and coming to new realizations on their own,” Powell said. “We have shifted our science teaching paradigm quite a bit over the last few years toward a phenomenon-based learning model.  In doing this, we introduce interesting observations to our students and task them with the discovery of the how and why.  It has been an amazing journey, and I can see such a difference in my students' understanding that it makes all the additional work of creating new lessons or adapting old ones completely worthwhile.”

Powell said receiving the Amazing Teacher honor is very humbling.

“It means that something I'm doing in my classes is making an impact,” she said.

As far as using the funds, Powell said one of the first things on her list is more toner cartridges for the color laser printer she bought with an award last year. In addition to that, she needs more digital scales in her classroom and a magnetic stirring plate, she said, so she hopes to get all of those items.

Amber Rudek, North Rock Creek Elementary

Rudek has taught kindergarten at NRC for the past six years.

“I have been teaching for 15 years total,” she said. “ I wanted to become a teacher because I saw the impact my dad had made in students' lives as he taught, and I wanted the opportunity to do the same.”

Rudek is honored to be named an Amazing Teacher finalist.

“It is incredible and very humbling that I was in the same group as so many other great teachers.  I'm sure that some of the others were so much more qualified than I to receive this honor,” she said. “I'm so thankful to all the family and friends who voted for me daily, and especially for my husband who told everyone about it and asked them to start voting.”

In using the $250 for her classroom, Rudek said she would like to incorporate more STEM into her classroom.

“ I want to challenge their minds daily, and if they can be challenged while not even realizing it because they are playing, that is even better,” she said.