Screaming for ice cream

SUWANEE - It wasn't her birthday, but the Gwinnett Teacher of the Year was still surprised with some birthday cake - in ice cream form.

Blue Bell Creameries honored Mai Yin Tsoi on Monday by stopping by her chemistry class to give her a cooler full of ice cream, including a half-gallon of her favorite flavor, "birthday cake."

"I love anything with cake," Tsoi said. "Also it's different. That's me. I don't pick vanilla; I pick something totally random."

Collins Hill High School will also celebrate Valentine's Day, and Tsoi's accomplishment, today with ice cream for all. Blue Bell is donating 4,000 mini ice cream sandwiches, one for every student, teacher and staff member.

Gene Reid, territory manager of the Blue Bell branch in Dacula, delivered the treats and the good news. When he presented Tsoi with her ice cream, she jokingly asked if she would have to share it with her students.

"Dr. Tsoi, you're going to get diabetes if you don't share the ice cream!" quipped sophomore Lawrence Egolum.

Blue Bell rewards Teacher of the Year finalists with ice cream in all of the areas it serves, from North Carolina to Texas. Tsoi was honored this year because she is one of 11 finalists for Georgia Teacher of the Year.

Karin Joann Manis, a first-grade teacher at Buford Elementary, was honored with ice cream last week. The Buford City Schools Teacher of the Year is also a finalist for the state competition.

Reid said the annual tradition is a way of recognizing great educators and getting their students to appreciate them more in the process.

"Maybe from getting a little ice cream, they can understand that it's a great thing their teacher is doing," Reid said.

After they finished their ice cream sandwiches, Tsoi sneaked in the back wearing the mask of Urkilala, a paper-eating monster that jokingly threatens students. The signature character was one of the ways Tsoi distinguished herself as an entertaining and enthusiastic teacher.

The students listened to the process of picking a new flavor at Blue Bell. Every year, employees suggest potential flavors. Usually six or seven of them make the cut.

Tsoi encouraged her students to write down their own flavor suggestions to give the company. Many of the results weren't too appetizing. Among them were "rice," "hamburgers" and "sweet and sour chicken."

"We'll have to work on that one," Tsoi said.