Yeager teaches social studies at Emily Griffith High School, a "second chance" school within Denver Public Schools. It welcomes high school dropouts who are now focused on earning their high school diploma.
"The kids all want to be here," Yeager said. "I know they need something. They're here because they want to be. "
Yeager also wants to be there. She started her teaching career at Emily Griffith Technical College in 1979 (back then, it was referred to as Emily Griffith Opportunity School.) She left the downtown campus to work within DPS but returned in 1992.
"This school has made me a better person," Yeager said. "The kids teach me a lot about life and living and laughter.. and sorrow and all sorts of things. I think I've been blessed in finding a place that matches my learning style, my teaching style and my personality."
Yeager's classes consist mostly of her working one-on-one with the students. She also makes the time for regular group discussions.
"We talk a lot about current events because they have to be able to make that connection between what they're learning and the real world."
For that reason, Yeager will take her students on field trips in Denver. Guest speakers also talk with the students about their careers. Yeager always insists that her students show respect.
"I always tell the kids: You have a right to succeed, and you have a right to fail, and you make choices. I will tell you to make the right choices. Not only will I tell you to behave yourself but I will show you how to do that. "
"Mary often acts as a parent to her students, setting strict policies for respect, promptness and a strong work ethic," fellow teacher Vicki Timm said. " I have often watched this 5-foot, 3-inch teacher look up at tall, very tough-looking students, shaking her finger and reiterating the boundaries, then seeing the students apologize and walk into her classroom to sit down and work. I have also walked by her room after the official school day has ended and observed a student or two sitting and working quietly while Mary is working at her desk. They feel welcome and comfortable in her room."
That observation from Timm is accurate.
One of her students, Dayzy Martinez-Bity : "When you get into the room, you can just feel it. It feels homey, I guess you could say. Any problem I may have, she is just open to it. It doesn't necessarily have to be with school. If I need anything, she's there."
Yeager received the award on Sept. 9, the 95th anniversary of Emily Griffith founding the vocational school. Griffith wanted the school to be "for all who wish to learn." That phrase still stands on the outside of the building on Welton Street. The vocational school and the high school are both in that building.
In the mid-1980s, the Colorado Department of Education established the pilot, dropout retrieval high school program at Emily Griffith. It was called Second Chance High School up until 2000. That year, the school was renamed Emily Griffith High School.
Yeager is flattered at the comparison to her love for learning and that which Emily Griffith exemplified. She was not only a teacher but brought hungry students into her home to feed them. Griffith visited the sick and helped those who wanted to improve their lives. She started a home for children who were getting out of the judicial system.
And like Griffith, Yeager is humble about the impact she is making. She is quick to compliment all of the dedicated teachers who help support the students at Emily Griffith High School.
For more information about Emily Griffith High School: http://eghs.dpsk12.org/index.html.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)