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Bronx Teacher Nominated For $1 Million Worldwide Teaching Prize

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A Bronx schoolteacher's selflessness has positioned him as a top 10 finalist in a worldwide community service contest.

As WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported, Stephen Ritz is not your average teacher. He called himself "CEO – chief eternal optimist -- of Bronx County."

"I teach at P.S. 55, where anything is possible," he said.

Ritz's enthusiasm, and love for teaching, catapulted the science teacher from 5,000 applicants to the top 10 finalists for the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize – often referred to as the Nobel Prize for Teachers.

Ritz was recognized for helping Bronx students build more than 100 gardens inside schools.

"And just to have my work in the south bronx celebrated as a global exemplar is proof that the Bronx can change attitudes now that you know we can do this, and this is our moment," he said.

Bronx Teacher Nominated For $1 Million Worldwide Teaching Prize

As a nominee for the prize, was also invited to by Pope Francis last week to talk with the Scholas Occurrentes on how to connect schools worldwide and spread global citizenship, according to a published report.

The other finalists for the prize are:

• Azizullah Royesh, Marefat High School, Kabul, Afghanistan;
• Kiran Bir Sethi, The Riverside School, Ahmedabad, India;
• Guy Etienne, College Catts Pressoir, Port-au-Prince, Haiti;
• Jacqueline Jumbe-Kahura, Bofa Primary school, Kilifi, Kenya;
• Nancie Atwell, The Center for Teaching and Learning, Edgecomb, Maine, USA;
• Naomi Volain, Springfield Central High School, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA;
• Phalla Neang, Phnom Penh Thmey, Phnom Penh, Cambodia;
• Madenjit Singh, GDI - SOLS 247 School (in Cambodia), Malaysia;
• Richard Spencer, Middlesbrough College, Middlesbrough, United Kingdom.

The winning teacher will be chosen by a global academy of judges including actor Kevin Spacey; social activist Geoffrey Canada; entrepreneur Baroness Martha Lane Fox; Carina Wong, deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Wendy Kopp, chief executive officer of Teach for all; Brett Wigdortz, Founder of Teach first; Grammy Award-winning musician Esperanza Spalding; Nigerian businessman Jubril Adewale Tinubu; and Jiang Xueqin, vice principal of the Tsinghua International School, China.

An award ceremony will be held in Dubai on March 15.

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