Ridenour, 25, who was raised in Ravenna and Kent, recently was recognized for her efforts in educating children as she was selected as Maryland's recipient of the Sallie May Corp. First Class Teacher Award.
The award is presented annually to a first-year teacher in each of the 50 states, Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands who possesses strong instructional skills, interaction with their students, communication with parents, faculty, staff and the community, said Fiona Adams, communications coordinator for Sallie Mae, a national education organization.
Ridenour was chosen as Maryland's winner from a pool of 30 candidates, and will receive a $1,500 award and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. next month.
Earlier in the year, she was presented with the Marian Greenblatt Award for being an outstanding first-year teacher in Maryland's Montgomery County.
Receiving the awards and being honored by her school community is rewarding to Ridenour, one of six children raised in Ravenna's McElrath neighborhood by a single mother, who also was a recovering alcoholic.
"I take my job very seriously having come from where I came from, and I put my heart into my work, doing this 14 hours a day," Ridenour said. "I think I am still in shock about all of this."
Her real reward is seeing her students succeed. With an upbringing similar to that of many of her students, she uses her past to help them prepare for the future.
"Half of my class is on free and reduced lunches, and 70 percent of the school is African American," said Ridenour, who is bi-racial, with a white mother and black father. "It is a high minority, socio-economically disadvantaged area, and the students and I really clicked. I also related well with the parents and community.
"The students know my background and they see that I had a dream and achieved it by staying in school," she said. "Their lives are similar, as some have parents who sold drugs and many are in single-parent families. I hope they see me as an example and know they can do anything they want to."
Growing up, Ridenour said she knew she a rough home life but tried to focus on school and her future.
"The McElrath neighborhood was bad enough, but the home environment wasn't the best either; but I thought everyone's life was like that," she said.
The family moved to Kent when Ridenour was about 8 and it was a year later in Nancy Kubicek's fourth-grade class when she knew she wanted to be a teacher.
On the questionnaire for both awards she received, Ridenour told of how Kubicek influenced her life. She said she hopes to do the same for her students.
"Mrs. Kubicek knew I came from a very disadvantaged environment and she ignored that," she said. "She was a very caring teacher ... and during spring break I came back and thanked her."
Kubicek could not be reached for comment.
Ridenour attended Kent Schools until her senior year when she moved to Virginia and graduated from high school there. She then received her bachelor's and master's degrees at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. and was hired by Montgomery County Schools last year.
While she loves teaching in a classroom setting, Ridenour, who is getting married Aug. 16, hopes to be the U.S. Secretary of Education someday in order to help all students excel.
"Growing up, my dream was to be a teacher but I know I won't be in the classroom for the rest of my life," Ridenour said. "I love the one-on-one teaching I can do with my students now, but I want to be in a position to have the greatest impact on education for all children.
"I feel I would be the perfect role model that education is what it takes to succeed, because it is what brought me up," she said. "I want to teach and then be a principal, a superintendent and work my way up to Secretary of Education."
Ridenour's mother, Judy Monaco of Kent, is convinced her daughter can do it. Acknowledging her children's upbringing wasn't the easiest, she said her youngest daughter's determination and dedication to school work is what helped her succeed.
"Nothing was handed to her. She worked, was determined and made up her mind that teaching was something she was going to do," Monaco said. "She has always had the ability to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative."
Monaco said Ridenour was very conscientious about her grades and more than once proved to teachers she earned a higher grade than was given her.
"She was not a complainer, but to her it wasn't just a grade but a career," she said. "With her background, for Tamar to have and achieved the goals she has is really a miracle because everyone thought she couldn't get there from where she was.
"I am as proud as I can be, but it is beyond a mother's pride. (This award) is a feather in Kent's cap for educating and encouraging her."