BP Teachers of Excellence 2014

The annual BP Teachers of Excellence program recognizes five of our teachers who nicely represent all that is good about teaching," said Dr. Steve Atwater. "Please join me in congratulating the five teachers and recognizing all our teachers for the extraordinary job that they do each school day to meet our students' learning needs."

On April 30, 2014, BP celebrated five KPBSD teachers, and named Barbara Veeck, West Homer Elementary special education teacher, as an "education bridge-builder extraordinaire," and "2014 Kenai Peninsula BP Teacher of the Year!"

Dave LaChance, vice president of reservoir development at BP, opened the evening with more than 200 people present, saying, "This is the 19th year that the BP Teachers of Excellence program has recognized outstanding educators in Alaska, those who go above and beyond to inspire and motivate our most precious natural resource. Each of the selected teachers receives a 500-dollar gift card and an award certificate. They also receive an additional 500 dollars for their school to support the program of their choice. In the nineteen years of this program, we've recognized many great teachers. These educators haven't just taught our children, they have inspired them to learn how to do their best. Teachers often lead students on a journey of learning that lasts a lifetime. We all have our own story, but at its core is a teacher who cared enough about us to help set us on the right path."

KPBSD celebrates all our excellent teachers and staff, and in particular these five BP teachers of excellence. At the end of each person's reflection, click the link to hear more about what the teacher said, and a reflection from their principal. You can also share the individual write-ups via social media, and add your comments and congratulations. At the awards celebration, BP introduced the five teachers of excellence:

Katie Bynagle teaches fifth and sixth-grade at West Homer Elementary School Katie has been teaching for eight-and-a-half years. She received her degree in history and secondary education with an emphasis in social science from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. During her junior year she studied abroad in Preston, England.

Katie later worked for a nonprofit organization that promoted higher education among underprivileged, inner-city youth. She says: "I consider it a tremendous achievement that many of the students I worked with are now college graduates who are doing good things with their lives and in society."

Katie spent five years teaching in the village of Nanwalek, on the Kenai Peninsula. She admitted she may have learned more than her students: "The students in this village taught me about love and acceptance. They taught me about how culture shapes our lives and how to effectively teach four grade levels in one room," she said. A parent of one of Katie's students said: "My son is a special-needs student, but attends a regular split 5th-6th grade classroom taught by Katie Bynagle. A split class along with a special needs child would be enough to challenge even the best teacher. However, Katie doesn't just survive in this environment, she excels. She has managed to address my son's special educational needs, achieving better results than we have had in any other educational setting, including the Anchorage School District and home schooling."

Another parent comments: "Mrs. Bynagle instills in her "scholars," as she always calls them, a love for learning. She has a gift of being able to reach every child in her class, helping each child to feel their own worth through the work they produce. Read more…

Terri McKnight teaches 5th grade at Seward Elementary SchoolTerri's career as a teacher spans 25 years. She graduated from Florida State University in 1988 with a degree in Elementary Education and immediately began teaching at the same elementary school where she attended as a child.

In 1992, when she was ready for a change, she drove to Fairbanks, Alaska in search of a teaching job. She eventually landed with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, teaching first in Moose Pass and eventually at Seward Elementary School. After receiving a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Grand Canyon University in 2002, she resumed teaching in Seward.

Terri says this year, she and her students have focused on creating many crafts for fundraising at local events and forums. They had high hopes for raising enough money to fund a series of field trips to explore the fine arts and theater in Anchorage, and succeeded with gusto. "These little eleven-year-olds are really empowered by their success," she said.

Terri mentions that along with fund raising efforts, students have also visited the Challenger Center in Kenai and are planning a spring overnight camping trip to Caines Head to explore World War II bunkers and local history. Terri notes: "This ties directly into 5th grade social studies curriculum. Such activities contribute to the sense of belonging and connectedness and support educational experiences outside the classroom."

A parent of a student in Terri's class said she: "has a great way to teach the kids. She plans hikes and overnight camping trips. She connects with her students and it makes them want to excel."

Terri is also active in several local organizations, including: Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance and the Seward Nordic Ski Club, which is involved in building and maintaining local ski trails and hosting winter events for the community. She also serves on the board of the Seward Tsunami Swim Club. Read more…

Sheilah-Margaret Pothast teaches Health, Spanish and American history at Soldotna Middle School Sheilah-Margaret has been a teacher for eleven years. She attended Northern Arizona University from 1987-1992 to earn her teaching credentials and taught for several years in Arizona before venturing north to Alaska. Since 2008 she has been a teacher, advisor and coach in the community.

Sheilah-Margaret says she challenges her students to think beyond themselves, consider their fellow citizens, and stretch their perspectives to ponder those of others. She also brings her Hispanic background and culture directly to her students.

"In Spanish, I teach students to make tortillas, fresh salsa, refried beans, yellow rice and more," she says. "They love to cook – and eat! It's a wonderful opportunity to expand the language by learning through cultural components. It also gives me the chance to share stories of my grandparents and the cultural experience they had growing up. Those stories allow us to have meaningful conversations about family, traditions, work ethic, language, stereotypes and more."

A colleague and parent of one of her students notes: "Mrs. Pothast is one of the hardest working teachers I have worked with in twenty years of education. She started a breakfast program this year for students at the school. She gathers donations, collects food, manages volunteers, and gives many of our disadvantaged students a head start on their school day."

Outside of the classroom, Sheilah-Margaret actively volunteers for church events. She prepares food, organizes activities, speaks to the congregation on various issues. She also teaches a Confirmation Class to a group of 17 students.

Another parent comments: "Mrs. Pothast teaches students to ask questions and think critically about our country and our government. She instills a sense of community in her students by challenging them to find ways to demonstrate citizenship in their community." Read more…

Barbara Veeck is a special education resource teacher for grades 3 and 4, at West Homer Elementary School.  

Barbara has been a special education teacher in Alaska nearly 33 years. In 1981, she earned an Elementary Education degree and an additional endorsement in Special Education at the University of Oregon, and since graduation, has completed 74 additional credits. Barbara taught in rural K through12 schools before transferring to West Homer Elementary in 2001.

Barbara has served in many special education projects across Alaska. Her efforts include special education curriculum development and a program to bring computer technology into the classroom. She has trained three student teachers while at West Homer Elementary, all of whom are successfully teaching Special Education in the Homer area. Barbara says that over the last three years, she has endeavored to take more classes and train herself about higher-functioning Autism (previously called Aspergers') due to the increasing numbers of these students. "My future goal is to gain an endorsement in the area of Autism," she says.

Among numerous comments of praise from colleagues, parents and students, this colleague writes: "Barbara is a mentor and leader at West Homer. I value her expertise, wisdom, professionalism and friendly attitude to students, staff and parents. West Homer Elementary is fortunate to have such an exceptional teacher at our school."

Barbara says outside of school, her main activity is coaching the West Homer Ski program. She says: "When I first got involved, the program had no gear to loan out and the number of students participating was fairly small. The other coach and I have built up the program to where we now have 50 to 60 students participating each year." Read more…

Amy Utecht is a 3rd grade teacher at Redoubt Elementary School Amy received her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education at the University of Southern Maine and her Master's Degree through Grand Canyon University in Arizona.

Amy confides: "I have almost survived 17 years teaching 2nd and 3rd grade students and still laugh to tell about it!"

When asked how she inspires students, she says: "I just love teaching and I try to have as much fun as I can throughout the day. I provide my kids with a safe environment and make sure they know I will be there for them. Trust goes a long way when it comes to small children. I inspire them by giving them positive feedback and reinforcing their efforts. I am there for them every day, and I am happy to be there. I love my job."

One of her students offers this comment: "She makes whatever we are learning about come to life. I am excited to go to school every day, because I know it is going to be an adventure." That student's mom adds: "Amy is an amazing teacher. My daughter loves going to school, and I love going into her classroom to help out and see how involved she is with each kid. She makes it fun, so you want to be there-- and you want to learn more."

Amy mentions a couple of her activities outside of the classroom: "I support the local animal shelter by adopting their cats and dogs despite my husband's wishes to NOT have a cat farm with a dog corral. And I buy tons of Girl Scout cookies and Boy Scout popcorn." Read more…

Barbara Veeck, education bridge-builder extraordinaire, is the 2014 Kenai Peninsula BP Teacher of the Year!

Much like engineers and architects, educators are bridge builders. And like those who erect bridges and other structures, teachers endeavor to construct something strong, enduring; something that stands tall for the world to see. This teacher is one who helps build and strengthen children so that they will have an opportunity to grow into successful, fulfilled adults.

According to a colleague, this teacher serves as a communication bridge that connects general education teachers, special education teachers, the school psychologist and school administration so they can all focus on the learning needs of students-- and how to improve the educational performance of those students. As a result of her efforts, students with learning disabilities are successful in academia and life beyond the school doors.

This teacher delivers her program in a multi-faceted variety of settings. She wears many hats...using a direct instruction model in her classroom, co-teaching in the general-education setting, training students to be peer tutors and utilizing their skills in a reading lab, and working with the identified students in an inclusion model in the general education classroom.

A parent writes: She continues to encourage the kids years after they have left her care in the classroom. She remembers them and asks after them when she sees them and family members. She is a remarkable person. She also volunteers for many extra-curricular activities, such as ski club, movie nights, field trips and more. She is one of the people my kids remember fondly, even though they are now in High School. Read more…

The BP Teacher of the year receives a $1,500 scholarship to be used for continuing education and a sculpture by Artist Mary Regat.

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