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2011 WEM Educator Award Brunch

Outstanding Educators Receive Awards Totaling $70,000

On Oct. 15, educators from Minnesota received $10,000 awards from the WEM Foundation at the 13th Annual WEM Outstanding Educator Awards Brunch held at the Oak Ridge Conference Center in Chaska.

Educators and academic coaches from Lakes International Language Academy, Le Sueur-Henderson, Mahtomedi, Mankato, Mountain Lake, St. Paul and West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area were recognized for their outstanding accomplishments and contributions to student achievement.
Two honorees were named in each of three categories: The Teacher Achievement Award recognizes exemplary teachers who support, inspire and assist students to attain greater learning as evidenced by student achievement; the Academic Challenge Coach of the Year Award recognizes classroom teachers who are exemplary coaches of student teams that participate and compete in academic challenges endorsed by the Minnesota Academic League Council; and the Ethics in Education Award recognizes exemplary educators who embody ethical behavior and promote ethical development for students through classroom or school activities, policies or curriculum. In addition, this year the WEM Foundation presented the Excellence in Education Award, which recognizes superior contributions of educators whose leadership and dedication inspire a spirit of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities outside the traditional education system and classroom.
The 2011 WEM Foundation Outstanding Educator Award honorees are:
Teacher Achievement Award:
Ikhlas Abdelkhalig currently teaches first grade at Pilot Knob STEM Magnet School in Eagan where she has been teaching for six years.Her principal stated, “Some people spend many years learning how to teach and some people just naturally know how to teach. Ikhlas is one of those people who just naturally knows how to teach. One has to spend time in Ikhlas’ first grade classroom to truly appreciate her talent as a teacher, to see her skill as an instructional leader and to experience her passion for learning.”
Scot Hovan is a Physics teacher at Mahtomedi High School. He has been teaching for 15 years. His students wrote, “As two seniors whose academic loyalties lie with the languages and humanities, we never expected to be the least bit interested by physics. Yet after just a week of class with Mr. Hovan, we were suddenly interested, motivated and enthusiastic about science.”
Academic Challenge Coach Award:
Thomas D. Appel is an agricultural education instructor at Mountain Lake High School. He is being honored for his work with the Mountain Lake FFA Chapter where he has been the advisor for the past 30 years. A colleague expressed, “When I think of this honor for outstanding academic coach, I picture a person who has helped people achieve successes in their life. This is true for Tom.”
Vergene L. Downs is a gifted and talented specialist at Benjamin E. Mays International Magnet School in St. Paul. She is being honored for her work with FIRST LEGO League and Math Masters. One of her students explained, “When I was in a LEGO competition, she motivated me and my friends all the way! She’s inspired me since I got to this school.”
Ethics in Education Award:
Kristina Lee Kofski is currently a sixth grade teacher at Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake. She has been teaching for nine years. She was a regional WEM Ethics in Education honoree in 2010. A parent shared that “Kristina personifies ethical behavior every day and strives for ethical development of all students through classroom interaction, school activities and by adding her own flair to the set curriculum.”
Tania K. Lyon teaches Advanced Placement Language and Composition, American Literature and newspaper courses to students in grades 10-12 at Mankato West High School. She has been teaching for 20 years. Tania was a 2010 WEM Ethics in Education regional honoree. Her principal said, “In reflection on the ethical values of Dr. Lyon, I am reminded of her clear passion for working with students to help them break down their own stereotypes, reflect on themselves, and act in different ways based on what they know in relation to social inequalities and social issues.”
Excellence in Education Award:
Art & Barb Straub are the quiet volunteers, known up and down the Minnesota River Valley for their enthusiasm and love of nature. The Straubs have been living, working, volunteering, educating and contributing in the Le Sueur-Henderson area for decades. Although retired from their formal teaching positions, both remain passionate about education, particularly nature-based education. They have expanded their audience from working with children to educating people of all ages, from preschoolers to the elderly. Students love their furs, feathers, stuffed birds and other artifacts that aide in learning. Students say, “I like their classes because they are very excited about nature and science, and “Art and Barb are very kind to everyone and will accept anyone who walks into their classroom.”
The WEM Outstanding Educator Awards program was created by the WEM Foundation and is administered by Synergy & Leadership Exchange in partnership with The Minnesota Service Cooperatives (MSC). The WEM Foundation supports teachers and acknowledges their important role in helping all children achieve academically. The awards program, now in its 13th year, has helped recognize education’s often “unsung heroes,” educators who meet the challenges and opportunities of teaching in a variety of settings.
Educators are nominated for the WEM Outstanding Educator Awards Program by students, parents, colleagues or community members. Those who accept the nomination provide additional information for review and consideration by Synergy & Leadership Exchange and a blue ribbon selection panel, which reviews and ranks the nominees.
In addition to the six statewide honorees, 10 additional educators were honored earlier this year as 2011 semi-finalists and each received a $1,000 award.

Art & Barb Straub, the brunch keynotes, we surprised when they too were honored with a WEM Outstanding Educator Award.


2011 WEM Outstanding Educator Award Honorees

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