On Jan. 22, the finalists for the 2015 Lafayette Education Foundation Teacher Awards will arrive at the Heymann Performing Arts Center by limousine and walk along a red carpet in an Academy Awards-style event.

The LEF pin patrol surprised the 16 finalists, including an art teacher, football coach and a sign language interpreter, on Dec. 10.

Students, parents, fellow educators and members of the Lafayette community sent in nominations from August through October. This year, 663 teachers were nominated.

“(The judging panel) looks for a good story,” said Etienna Wright, LEF programs director. “They look at how a teacher has impacted a student. Sometimes, the teacher has influenced a student or a student’s family in a personal way.”

The community nominated Rowdy Huval, a physical education teacher and football coach at Broussard Middle, for not only including an autistic student in this year’s team roster but for giving him time on the field.

“(Huval) went above and beyond for him,” Wright said. “This student went from being bullied beyond belief to being part of the community.”

Though noteworthy stories like that capture the panelists’ attention, Wright said, a majority of the nominations are for teachers who simply know how to challenge their students in the classroom.

Sandra Broussard, a speech and debate teacher at Comeaux High, was nominated for dedication.

Amanda Newberry, an itinerant teacher who evacuated to the area after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, began the Talented Theatre Program, which focuses on students’ development in the performing arts.

The finalists in the elementary school category are: Cynthia Chastant Callen, a special education teacher at Charles Burke Elementary; Erin Dowd, fourth-grade teacher at Green T. Lindon Elementary; Kimberly G. Kidder, speech therapist at J. Wallace James Elementary; and Shalita Manuel-Jackson, fourth-grade teacher at Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy.

The finalists in the middle school category are: Debbie Arceneaux, piano teacher at Broussard Middle; Tanya Chiasson, English language arts teacher at St. Pius Catholic School; Rowdy Huval, physical education teacher and football coach at Broussard Middle; and Michelle Lakhotia, eighth-grade math teacher at Judice Middle.

The finalists in the high school category are: Jeanne E. Aguillard, science teacher at Early College Academy; Sandra Broussard, speech teacher and debate coach at Comeaux High; Sarah Clavelle, choir director at Northside High; and Simone McCrocklin, art teacher at Comeaux High.

The finalists in the inspirational category are: Amanda Newbery, talented theater/itinerant teacher for Lafayette Parish schools; Tiffany Robin, prekindergarten teacher at Lafayette Christian Academy; Melissa Wallis, kindergarten teacher at Prairie Elementary; and Milissa Welch, sign language interpreter at Lafayette High.

“We have such a variety of teachers this year, which is kind of crazy,” Wright said. “But it really shows what our teachers are doing for the students and for the community.”