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Independence High School teacher Kevin Crosby is a semifinalist in People magazine's second annual Teacher of the Year awards.

Independence High School special education teacher Kevin Crosby is among six semifinalists in a national Teacher of the Year contest co-sponsored by People magazine and Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats.

The award honors K-12 teachers "who most inspire their students to achieve; who have changed a community for the better; and who have found innovative ways to overcome challenges in the classroom," according to the magazine.

The editors of People, with guidance from an advisory board of education experts and celebrity philanthropists, have selected five finalists. A sixth finalist will be chosen from a pool of six semifinalist teachers whose profiles appear on the magazine's website. The public is invited to cast votes for the sixth finalist through Sept. 5 at

The winners will be featured in the Oct. 28 issue and will receive a $5,000 prize--$4,000 for their schools and $1,000 for themselves.

"Great educators influence the lives of their students in positive ways and give us hope for the future," People Managing Editor Larry Hackett said in a statement announcing the second annual contest. "People once again is honored to recognize teachers who inspire us with their dedication and innovation."

Crosby, 42, teaches ninth- through 12th-graders with moderate to severe disabilities, mostly autistic teens with developmental or cognitive delays.

"I like my students," he said. "They're so genuine and really sincere. They like to learn, and it's fun to see them have that aha moment when you teach them new concepts and they make sense."

Crosby is a big fan of hands-on learning and real-world experience.

In a previous job, he used a solar-powered greenhouse to teach middle school special education students in Lamont about green energy and photosynthesis.

Now in his fourth year at Independence, he's still using solar power to teach young people about science.

Students from his high school class visit mainstream elementary school classrooms through the Falcon Autistic Solar Team. The teens demonstrate the energy of light with solar-powered toy cars and bracelets that turn colors in the sun. Then everybody eats solar baked cookies.

The teens also learn vocational and social skills by operating the Falcon Coffee Co., which sells coffee to Independence teachers. Order slips are collected in a basket in the teacher lounge, and drinks are delivered to classrooms.

Independence has placed a link to People's website on its home page and is encouraging the school to support Crosby.

"He's just one of those teachers who is always writing grants and winning awards, just top notch," said Principal Debbie Thompson. "He really cares about his students and always has a smile on his face."

The other contestants are Art Almquist, a drama teacher at Tucson High Magnet School in Tucson, Ariz.; Jeromie Heath, a fifth-grade teacher at Pine Tree Elementary School in Kent, Wash.; Diedre Young, a science department head at Ridgway Christian School in Pine Bluff, Ark.; Kaylie Gomez, a third-grade teacher at Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists in Los Angeles; and Genein Letford, a gifted and talented coordinator and music teacher at New Academy Canoga Park in Los Angeles.