It was like a late and totally unexpected birthday gift.
Elaine Tam, in her sixth year as a biology teacher at Atwater High School, received a $2,500 academic award from the California Casualty insurance company, which she plans to use to help with a student field trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, student supplies and payment on her student loans.
Tam's name was randomly selected from a pool of more than 15,000 entries from across the United States, California Casualty spokeswoman Makinya Ward said. Tam has been a teacher for 13 years.
"It was a very pleasant surprise," Tam said. "It was nice. My birthday was the day before. We will be fund-raising for the aquarium trip and I will help with what we can't raise."
Tam's boss, Atwater High Principal Alan Peterson, said this was a nice gesture from California Casualty, a San Mateo-based company which has 62 years of ties to public education. The Academic Award contest was launched late last year and the next winner will be randomly drawn in December.
"Elaine certainly deserves it and and she will see that it gets put to good use for her students," Peterson said. "It was a nice way to start the school year."
Tam found out about the award during a back-to-school teacher staff meeting. She said transportation has been a hindrance to field trips because of the high cost of charter bus services. The cost can be more than $800 per bus.
Ward said it's no secret that on average teachers spend $400 of their personal money to fund classroom materials, and Tam has done that as well.
"California Casualty wanted to give at least one educator some relief and to thank him or her for the dedication and sacrifice made daily on the job," Doug Goldberg, senior vice president, said.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.