When Lee Noles and Bertha Escobar walked into McNair Elementary the morning of Nov. 15, neither knew they were about to make school history.
"Ms. Benezra said to stay here, so I figured she wanted me to clean up a broken glass," said Bertha Escobar, McNair custodian, about the minutes leading up to the announcement that she had received the Horace Mann Crystal Apple award. "I was so surprised when I saw the crystal apple in her hand."
"We were in shock," added Lee Noles, McNair library assistant who was also a Crystal Apple recipient.
Escobar, who has worked at McNair since its opening four years ago, explained as the school's custodian she works 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every school day doing everything from cleaning the cafeteria to cutting the grass.
"Bertha is the only head custodian we have during the day," said Susan Benezra, McNair principal. "She is flexible, she cleans up everything from throw-up to spills to kids who are sick, she just runs around this place."
Benezra explained even with all the work asked of her, Escobar is always smiling and willing to help whenever she can.
"She's always pleasant," she said. "She's another one who never says no."
She added the second Crystal Apple recipient, Noles — who has been at McNair since its start — is another employee who is always smiling, has touched every book in the library, who knows where everything is and who always has suggestions for teachers wanting to find that perfect book for class.
Like Escobar, Noles said she also had no idea the award was coming.
"I thought they were calling me down to bring an overhead projector ... or set up a microphone," she said. "I had no clue."
Benezra explained when she was presenting the award to Noles she had to put her arm around her to hold her up in front of the faculty because she is so humble she didn't want the attention.
"She'll come in on her own time in the evening, for PTA events, to help teachers," said Benezra about why Noles was so deserving. "She's always there when you need help, she's a tremendous asset and she never says no."
Benezra explained as a way for the school to reward its staff, teachers or other positions, they have begun participating in the Horace Mann Crystal Apple award that recognizes those who go above and beyond the call of duty.
EACH YEAR HORACE Mann company gives the Crystal Apple award to educators and those in the educational community to applaud their efforts at the local and national levels.
"Ultimately the principal chooses who wins, but the people are nominated by their peers," said Mary McLean with the Herndon-Reston branch of Horace Mann. "Obviously they work very hard and are very dedicated to what they do and it's important they are recognized for that."
McLean said, as a former private school teacher in the area, she knows how important recognition is for teachers who devote so much of their time for very little pay.
"It's a job where you don't get a lot of monetary rewards," she said, adding for the influence and impact they have on youth, they deserve to be awarded.
Horace Mann — based out of Springfield, Ill. — is an insurance company that sells retirement annuities and automobile, homeowners and life insurance to the nation's educators and their families, said McLean.
In addition to helping educators find the proper insurance, she said the company wanted to go a little farther in rewarding them for their dedication to the nation's children.
"It's just one more way we can give back to the educational community," she said, adding it's particularly important for her to recognize the schools in the area.
Although this is the first year that McNair has participated in the Crystal Apple award, Benezra said when McLean told her about it she jumped at the opportunity.
"I thought it was a great idea," she said. In addition to the awards, the entire faculty also received two sheet cakes to celebrate. "We're now going to do this every quarter, so by the end of the year we'll have eight teachers who have been recognized."
To help with the process, she explained the school has formed a committee comprised of staff members who review the nominations given by other faculty members, adding the awards are for everyone not just teachers.
"It's the behind the scenes people that keep this school running," she said. "They are the heart and soul of this building."
As far as the two history-making recipients, Escobar said when she brought the award home the first night to show her family her 11-year old daughter asked if she could have it.
"She kept saying, 'tell me why you got it,'" she said. "Then she asked if she could have it. But she said 'you work hard mommy, you deserve it.'"
When Noles' husband came home, she announced to him "you are looking at the proud recipient of the Crystal Apple Award."
Although they shared their awards with their families, both recipients now display the small crystal apple — with their name engraved on the stand — in their respective offices.