2015 Kenai BP Teachers of Excellence

2015 Kenai BP Teachers of Excellence

Five Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers are among the 32 Alaska teachers honored in 2015 as a BP Teacher of Excellence.

Congratulations to the BP Teachers of Excellence winners from KPBSD:


  • Jake Doth - Nikiski Middle High School
  • Shannon Adair Dwyer - Skyview Middle School
  • Judy Gonsalves - West Homer Elementary School
  • James Harris - Soldotna High School
  • Matthew Widaman - Kenai Central High School

"We are thrilled to recognize those teachers who make a lasting impact on the next generation of Alaskans by educating our children and who make our communities better places to live," said Janet Weiss, BP Alaska Regional President. "BP is honored to continue supporting this great program. It's another way we are showing our commitment to Alaska."

The BP Teachers of Excellence program is open to all Alaska school districts, recognizing teachers for their dedication to teaching and inspiring students. Celebrating its 20th year in 2015, the program attracted about 1,200 nominations. The five Kenai Peninsula winners were recognized at an awards ceremony, when the Kenai BP Teacher of the Year, Matt Widaman, was announced.

Jake Doth teaches physical science and biology at Nikiski Middle-High School. He prides himself on building relationships with students that provide life lessons. His leadership outside of the classroom through the Lego club, as a sports coach, and as a tutor reinforces those relationships.  

Shannon Adair Dwyer teaches seventh and eighth grades at Skyview Middle School. Her subjects include language arts and physical education. Dwyer encourages kids to become active outside of the classroom and coaches the cross country running and track teams.

Judy Gonsalves is the speech and language therapist for grades third through sixth at West Homer Elementary School. With 30 years of teaching experience, Gonsalves enjoys the successes of her past students. She is also active in the community, through the Homer Council on the Arts, Homer Friends of the Library and the KBBI public radio station.

James Harris teaches English and advance college placement English, at Soldotna High School. He is motivated to share knowledge with his students. Harris hosts an after school writing center where students work on not only academics, but on their college applications. He also volunteers his time as a coach for the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association.

Matthew Widaman teaches career and technical training at Kenai Central High School. He strives to teach workforce skills to students ninth through 12th grade. He incorporates the use of a 3D printer, industry standard software and the ability to earn college credits into his classroom. He also leads high school academies for construction and welding. After school, Widaman coaches Boys and Girls Club basketball, soccer and USA wrestling.


Matthew Widaman, 2015 Kenai Peninsula BP Teacher of the Year
"This teacher states that a person doesn't go into education for the glamour of standing on a podium and collecting awards and accolades," said J. P. Connelly, Regional Director for BP Alaska, at the awards celebration. "The real reason is because they care about students and want to help them build successful futures. The best reward for this teacher is when students send him a letter or email, or come by to tell him that they are working in a career related field and that they are grateful for the solid foundation his classes have given them. These are the moments for which he is most proud.

This teacher has opened students' eyes to the ever-changing world of technology, and has allowed them to not only see how they might fit into that world, but also how they can achieve success.

His principal states that he is a dedicated educator who teaches useful skills that students can use personally as well as in a career field. You can tell from his slight laugh and smile that he takes great pleasure from the looks on his students faces when they make something with their own hands, using skills that he has taught. He has exposed his students to the 21st Century skills needed for success in our current workforce. His students are proficient in the use of 3D printers, CNC plasma machines, the most up-to-date welding equipment and the latest version of AutoCad, which is the most widely used Drafting program in the nation. Most of all, he is a master at building relationships with his students and members of the staff. He uses these relationships daily to have a positive influence on the lives of those around him."

More about KPBSD 2015 BP Teachers of Excellence


Jacob "Jake" Doth is a 7th and 8th grade physical sciences and biology teacher at Nikiski Middle School.

Jake has been teaching for 12 years, with nine of those in Alaska. He has a bachelor's degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, a minor in anthropology and a masters of arts in instruction.

Jake says his teaching style is based upon building relationships and connecting with students on a personal level that makes them feel safe in a learning environment. He believes strongly in differentiation, which involves creating learning experiences that fit many different styles of cognition.

"Reaching the students is often a case of finding the right method of displaying information and teaching to a learner's strengths," he says. "I focus on thinking rather than memorization--on solving problems instead of memorizing facts."

Jake adds: "I believe strongly that education has many facets. One of them is being able to teach kids how to be good people. These life lessons are just as important as being a good student or athlete."

Nikiski Middle-High School Principal, Daniel Carstens, comments: "Jake's passion for the kids and the amount of time he spends with them is rivaled by few people. When he sees a student who struggles, he is the first person to step in and welcome that student into his classroom. He makes an immediate connection because he knows why he is a teacher."

"Psychic Monkey", "When Pigs Fly", "What Floats Your Boat?", "May the 'Mass Times Acceleration' Be With You", "Medieval Siege", and "Moose Musher" are all examples of the engaging, intriguing, and often times humorous lessons students will participate in during Jake Doth's classes. Whether it's constructing different micro-ecosystems filled with exotic creatures or building catapults and trebuchets and examining the scientific components of those models, students are exposed to "doing" science and not simply hearing about it. Students are able to explore and examine many different aspects of the physical and life sciences and are encouraged to discover concepts through the process of experimentation. Being a teacher is more than simply delivering the goods in the classroom as Jake builds a strong rapport with all students who walk through our building. Whether on the basketball court, the track, or flying unmanned aerial vehicles through the hallways with Upward Bound students, Jake Doth makes a personal connection with students every day. Jake Doth is a true servant of students and it is an honor to recognize him as a BP Teacher of Excellence.


Shannon Dwyer teaches 7th and 8th grade language arts and physical education at Skyview Middle School.

Shannon's career as a teacher spans 23 years, with 22 of those in Alaska. Both of her degrees--a bachelor's and a master's -- were awarded with honors while she was working and raising two children of her own. In special services for 20 years, one of Shannon's requirements was to take Praxis to be termed "highly qualified" in middle school language arts.

According to her Principal: "If you are looking for Ms. Dwyer on a weekend or holiday, she can most likely be found in her classroom. She is a team player and a talented educator."

Through the years, Ms. Dwyer has been asked to step out of her gym class and use her Language Arts credentials and talent to work with students in the area of writing. She has also stepped up and accepted the challenge of creating an adaptive PE class for 8th grade students who need something a little different in Physical Education."

Shannon comments: "My students show up ready to work and try all of the team sports I teach. Some kids in class even feel free to dance when they hear music. I may love that the most. We acknowledge each day's motivation may be different for a lot of reasons--and that working out and play can overcome the stress we carry around."

Shannon is actively involved in the community. Just some of her activities have included serving as special services department head at Skyview; coaching intramural soccer, volleyball, cross-country running and track and field; coaching Boys and Girls Club basketball and soccer; taking school science fair winners to the state competition; chaperoning an annual field trip to Washington D.C.; and teaching confirmation and religious classes to students at her church.

One of Shannon's students mentions: "Ms. Dwyer makes a difference by helping people get physically fit and being a good role model for children. I am honored that I got to be one of her students. She dramatically altered my life and outlook."


Judy Gonsalves is a certified teacher and speech-language pathologist for grades 3-6 at West Homer Elementary School.

Judy has been a teacher for 30 years, with all of that time in Alaska. She earned her Associate of Arts degree from Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, Washington; a Bachelor of Science in speech pathology/audiology from Central Washington University; a Type-A teaching credential from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and Master of Education Integrated Arts degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Judy was voted Teacher of the Year by her colleagues while teaching for Dillingham City Schools, and former Alaska First Lady Susan Knowles spent a day in her classroom. She was once a presenter at the Alaska State Reading Association, and co-wrote and self-published a children's book.

Judy says her teaching style is all about engaging students and making connections, sprinkled with heavy doses of respect, compassion and humor. Judy says: "I asked myself early in my career-- what if I were the student? How would I want to learn this? How could it be fun?"

These questions were a guiding principle in developing her teaching style over the years. Whether it's a classroom of energetic, young third graders, or an individual session with a 6th-grade boy struggling with challenging sounds, she seeks to engage and connect with students through genuine caring, respect and compassion.

Outside of the classroom, Judy has contributed to many school fundraising efforts. She was an active Booster Club member and on the Library Advisory Board. She has made community presentations on autism and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASD. Judy has provided after-school programs that include Girls Basketball and Drama Club, and she is a member of the district's new Think Tank for FASD. She currently holds membership to the Homer Council on the Arts, Homer Public Library 'Friends of the Library,' and KBBI radio station.

A colleague comments: "Judy has been an exceptional colleague who values collaboration with parents and staff as she works to meet the needs of the students. She has been West Homer Elementary School's speech/language therapist for the past 12 years. While her focus is on providing the best speech and language program for all students on her caseload, which has been up to 40 students, she also consults with all staff about ways to increase communication and learning for all students."

Judy adds: "I'm proud to be part of an award-winning school and to be an active participant in collaborations at the student, school and district levels. Simply put, I'm proud to be an educator."


James Harris is an 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement and honors English teacher at Soldotna High School.

James has taught school for 10 years -- eight of those in Alaska. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Western State College at Colorado, he earned a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where he also taught classes from the freshman to junior level--and received multiple teaching awards. He began a PhD program in English at Idaho State University before deciding to focus his efforts on Alaska public high school students -- at which point he chose to attend and complete University of Alaska Southeast's MAT program. That program ultimately resulted in his coming to Soldotna High School, where he has taught the past five years.

James reflects on his teaching style: "Throughout my career, I have learned that no approach to teaching can be based upon rigid absolutes. I place my core teaching values on adaptation and flexibility to meet student needs, while allowing a class to develop its own discourse. One of the things I've noticed during my teaching career is that an environment where a student can feel comfortable being wrong can contribute just as strongly to his or her development as whatever lesson plan I've spent hours agonizing over. If students are able to be wrong, then discussion begins, and we may collaboratively conquer topics we cannot on our own."

As an active member in the community, he has participated in several local fundraisers and volunteers as a certified hockey coach for the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association.

One of James' students comments: "He cares about the learning of all his students and his class is a breath of fresh air in my metaphorical lungs. Mr. Harris is probably the best teacher I have ever had and I believe that he truly cares about my learning. I am blessed to be in his class."

His principal, Todd Syverson adds: "Mr. Harris is an exciting young teacher and a leader within our district and school. He is our Staff Development Chairperson, head of his Language Art Department and sits on several curriculum committees for our school district. Last year Mr. Harris was a lead staff member for our accreditation process and helped develop an online story about our school. Mr. Harris has a passion for writing and has the ability to support students who have been accepted into MIT to those who struggle with their writing. It is common to see Mr. Harris after school with several students in his room working with them on their writing skills and he runs a weekly writing lab for any student needing extra support."


Matthew Widaman teaches career and technical education to grades 9 through 12 at Kenai Central High School.

Matthew has been teaching for 18 years, with half of that time in Alaska. In 1996 he earned a Technology in Education/Industrial Arts degree at Montana State University. While teaching in Polson, Montana, he completed a Masters in Technology in Education program.

Matthew believes that what a student learns should be relevant to their world after high-school-- so that they will transfer and utilize what's learned in their classes to continued education, business, or industry.

In his drafting class, for example, students use industry-standard software called Autodesk. His school is the only one in the district that has a drafting articulation with the University of Alaska-Anchorage--allowing his students to receive college credit.

Matthew has not sought awards, but has been a recipient of many; among them the Pollete/Armstrong Professional Development Award for being an Outstanding Career and Technology Education Association Instructor in the State of Montana. He also received the International Technology Education Association (ITEA) Award for the Technology Education Association Program of the Year--also for the State of Montana. In 2007 he received the U.S. Air Force Technology Education Outstanding Teacher Award.

Matthew is involved in several activities in the communities of Kenai and Soldotna. During the past three years, he has coached Boys and Girls Club basketball, as well as indoor and outdoor soccer. He has also assisted with USA Wrestling program for the Kenai Kavemen. Additionally, he devotes time after school teaching high school academies that provide hands-on training in construction and welding with students from the surrounding areas that want to gain basic knowledge of construction techniques.

A colleague notes: "He connects with students in amazing ways by making classes exciting and pertinent to real life. Students are challenged to investigate ways to construct and manufacture items safely, but with their own individual skills and abilities. His students know that he is on their side and interested in their success in the classroom and in the community. He has helped many students fulfill their school and career goals through the programs he teaches."

Thank you
Thank you to everyone who nominated teachers, the Kenai selection committee, musicians from Kenai Central High School for entertainment, students from Nikiski Middle-High School for taking photos, and all the teachers!

Each BP Teacher of Excellence received a $500 gift card and a $500 matching grant to their school. One Kenai Peninsula teacher was chosen as BP's Kenai Peninsula Teacher of the Year, and received a $1,500 scholarship for continuing education.

The program honors K-12 teachers from public or private schools who have made important contributions to education and their communities. Since the program's inception in 1995, BP has recognized 650 Alaska teachers. For the complete list of winners across the state visit: BPteachers.com.


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