BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A northeast Baltimore art teacher, beat out some of the best and brightest educators in the state. Now she’s competing against stand-out teachers from Wisconsin, Massachusetts and California.

Ms. Kyriakakos is born and raised in Baltimore. She says there’s no other place she’d rather teach. One of the busiest art studios in Baltimore City is an unexpected place. A classroom at the Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.

Athanasia Kyriakakos has been teaching at the school since 2014. Her dedication to her students has earned her top honors from the State Department of Education.

“This teacher. I just love her. I love how she is as a teacher. She loves to help kids,” said student Rashard Brown.

She’s this year’s Maryland Teacher of the Year and is one of four finalists for the 2017 National Teacher of the Year award.

“Oh my god, I’m like sort of beside myself,” said Kyriakakos.

“Before I came to this class, I couldn’t do any of what you see here. I was drawing stick figure people, but as a result of her, now I’m doing full body portraiture’s,” said student Darrick Rowe.

The Fulbright scholar stumbled upon teaching while volunteering for an organization that helps underprivileged girls.

“Those girls showed me, my potential. That gift that I had was to give it back them,” said Kyriakakos.

Ms. Kyriakakos is in good company this year. Three of the four nominees teach the arts. Something she says proves art is an essential part of education.

“It just encourages me every day. To say wow. I really did that,” said student Taeshawn Spriggs.

Before teaching, Kyriakakos or Ms. K, like some students call her, spent years creating art installations. She says inspiring future artists is her biggest masterpiece.

“Allow them to tap into their own potential and find the hidden talent and skill they might have.”

In March, Ms. Kyriakakos will go before a panel of judges for a rigorous interview. That’s the last step before a winner is chosen. The winner will be announced in May at a White House ceremony.

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