Ardent supporters of improved education, Alan and Wendy Pesky, founders of the Lee Pesky Learning Center, created the award because they wanted to recognize those extraordinary teachers who ignite a fire in their students at some point to become a teacher themselves, and then light a similar fire in the lives of the children they teach. The Pesky family created the award in 2011 with the College of Education through a mutual vision to honor and recognize inspiring teachers.
Who Inspired You?
The Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching recognizes kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers in Idaho and beyond who make a major difference in the lives of their students through their passion and caring.
Each of the four teachers selected for the awards receives $2,000, and his/her school receives $500. It is the only award known of its kind in the country.
2021 Pesky Award Recipients
Watch the 2021 Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching recipients getting surprised in their classrooms with the news they’ve been selected for the award.
Michael Brushafer, Canyon Springs High School, Caldwell, ID
James LeDoux, Renaissance High School, Meridian, ID
Jake Miller, North Junior High School, Boise, ID
Lisa Sterling, Hillside Junior High School, Boise, ID
Past Award Presentations
2021 Award Presentations
Mike Brushafer, mathematics teacher at Canyon Springs High School in Caldwell, Idaho. Nominated by Amber Alexander.
Brushafer’s unwavering, positive spirit and his unique ability to see his students’ strengths despite their struggles gave Alexander the confidence she needed to learn and eventually excel at math. Brushafer’s commitment to at-risk students, who can be hard to reach, has earned him the respect and admiration of many students who have taken classes from him.
“Mike has stepped up and worked with likely thousands of students who need the most attention,” Alexander said. “That means thousands of students feeling uncomfortable about math, worried about their lives outside of school, have left his classroom feeling able, worthy and cared for as people before students.”
James LeDoux, English teacher at Renaissance High School in Meridian, Idaho. Nominated by Camryn Halford.
Inspired by LeDoux’s passion for literature, Halford developed her own passion for reading and writing that led her down a different path than what she’d been planning on for college. Originally focused on becoming a nurse, Halford changed course after LeDoux recognized and championed her gift for language arts, which inspired her to become a teacher herself.
“Mr. LeDoux is a teacher who is absolutely and unconditionally committed to an inquiry-based approach in the classroom,” said Halford. “As such, Mr. LeDoux stands apart from other teachers in his community because of his level of engagement and sincerity. I found myself more motivated in his class than I did in any other because of the empowerment that came with making my own discoveries with the content.”
Jake Miller, physical education teacher at Hillside Junior High in Boise, Idaho. Nominated by Sarah Absalonson.
Miller’s approach includes outdoor education, fire building, knot tying and camping trips. He teaches “Parkastics”, a combination of Parkour and gymnastics, to teach students movement awareness that can enhance their ability to move and play sports. According to Absalonson, Miller’s resourcefulness allowed him to adapt to teaching PE virtually during the pandemic using online resources effectively. Miller’s commitment to creatively teaching skills that directly inspire students to lead active lives has given Absalonson excellent examples to use in her own teaching.
“Mr. Miller has inspired me as a physical educator regarding the use of creativity and resources,” said Absalonson. “He always puts his students first by prioritizing their physical and emotional safety as well as by doing everything he can to make their learning experience in physical education a meaningful one.”
Lisa Sterling, English, ELD and Creative Communications teacher at Hillside Junior High in Boise, Idaho. Nominated by Alex Joe-Monday.
Joe-Monday nominated Sterling because Sterling has been exemplary as a mentor teacher during Joe-Monday’s student teaching experience in her classroom, often finding extra resources and delivering them to students at their homes during the pandemic. Sterling’s classes at Hillside focus on recent immigrants who are new learners of English, and she has inspired Joe-Monday to be patient, show up for the students with a smile and problem solve when teaching is difficult.
“Lisa should be celebrated because I firmly believe she embodies what it means to go above and beyond for all students,” said Joe-Monday. “She is a positive light in this school and all of the students know they can come to her if they need anything. Some of them even call her Mama Sterling.”
Annette Haag, Government, Psychology, Leadership, Senior Project and Economics teacher at Orofino Junior-Senior High School in Orofino, Idaho. Nominated by Cynthia Guitron.
Cynthia Guitron nominated Haag because she remembered her former teacher always going above and beyond for students and other teachers at Orofino Junior-Senior High School, often arriving early and staying late to be there for others. “She was so involved in the lives of her students and genuinely cared about everyone in the school,” said Guitron. “I remember always seeing other teachers coming into her room asking for help, advice, or information on anything they needed.”
Shanon Holt, Family and Consumer Science teacher at Borah High School in Boise, Idaho. Nominated by Courtney Biagi.
In Holt’s child development class at Borah High School, nominator Courtney Biagi felt engaged in a way that made Holt’s classes stand out from other high school courses. “Mrs. Holt is not only a brilliant teacher, but she creates a learning environment that welcomes everyone,” Biagi said. “She made all of her material relevant to our lives, even for those who weren’t necessarily wanting to pursue a career in early childhood education.”
David Jones, Visual Arts teacher at Kuna High School in Kuna, Idaho. Nominated by Rylee Newman. Former student and nominator Rylee Newman developed a love for art in David Jones’ art classes at Kuna High School during a tough time. According to Newman, Jones was sensitive to his students’ diverse needs as budding artists, allowing them to tailor assignments to their individual strengths and creativity, so students could express themselves and build confidence from their own perspectives. “Through Mr.Jones I developed both a love for art and the classroom environment,” said Newman. “With my degree, I can incorporate my love for art in the classroom.”
Brenda Mckenzie, Kindergarten teacher, Valley View Elementary in Boise, Idaho. Nominated by Natalie Swesey. Natalie Swesey is currently a student teacher in Brenda Mckenzie’s kindergarten classroom at Valley View Elementary and nominated Mckenzie after witnessing the outstanding support Mckenzie offers her kindergartners, especially during the Covid 19 pandemic. “During the 1st month of online school she created ‘front yard kindergarten’ where we went to a student’s house each day and read to them, and did some type of educational game,” said Swesey. “We have 46 kindergartners and she made sure each of those students and parents’ needs were met during the first month of school when we were online.”
Liz Batey, Riverglen Junior High School, Boise School District, Idaho. Nominated by Gabrielle Plaschka. During a difficult period in her middle-school life, Plaschka joined the girls’ choir lead by Batey. “I grew up singing, but I never had technical training,” Plaschka said. “Ms. Batey taught me everything from how to read music to how to combat stage fright. I found a safe place in that choir room where I was no longer lonely or broken. I was given the guidance I needed to find my voice.”
Cosmo Lorusso, Roxbury High School in Succasunna, New Jersey. Nominated by Allyson Kleinsorgen. As a student in Cosmo Lorusso’s English class, Kleinsorgen found her mentor. “Mr. Lorusso inspired the kind of teacher I want to be,” Kleinsorgen said. “When students leave a class taught by Mr. Lorusso, they leave as stronger writers, critical thinkers, grammar experts, and as better people than they were. The lasting impression he leaves on his students is something I want to leave on my own students.”
Shannon Murdoch, Mary McPherson Elementary, West Ada School District, Idaho. Nominated by Jessica Willis. Willis remembers that her first grade teacher at Ponderosa Elementary always made her feel cared for and special as a student and as a person outside of the classroom. “Mrs. Murdoch created a safe and positive learning environment that helped me establish a love for learning at a young age,” said Willis. “I would ask her to watch me go across the monkey bars on the playground and she always happily watched and cheered, then put bandaids on my blistered hands after recess.”
Taryn Waddell, Timberline High School, Boise School District, Idaho. Nominated by Bella Zito. When Zito moved to a new high school, she was embraced by the community that Waddell created in her advanced placement English classroom. “Mrs. Waddell shared her personal interests and outside activities and encouraged us to do the same, thus creating a community based classroom. Mrs. Waddell’s passion for the curriculum and compassion for her students made me feel welcomed in her space and ready to learn. I appreciated her knowledge, quirky personality and enthusiasm for her students.”
Pat Absalonson, Lewis and Clark Middle School, West Ada School District, Idaho. Nominated by Jenna Caven. On Mr. Absalonson’s strengths to develop an appreciation for music, Jenna wrote in her nomination “He is able to take 6th grade students who don’t know how to read music, and transform them into proficient and motivated musicians and students in just a short time. He models everything that he wants to see his students do–including modeling every band instrument at a high level to his students. He constantly reads, asks questions, and makes adjustments to his program based on his discoveries. His program is always evolving, but his goal of creating lifelong musicians and music lovers stays the same.”
Sylvia Fine, Kuna High School, Kuna School District, Idaho. Nominated by Alethea Rice. Alethea wrote in her nomination that Mrs. Fine helped cultivate a love for reading. “She provided professional opportunities to grow by signing us up for the national poetry competition, if we chose to, and participating in a novel writing month program. She installed a love of reading by using the last few minutes of class every day to read a novel. By the end we were invested in these lengthy novels and were excited to start a new one. I took her creative writing class all 4 years of high school and made some amazing friends, grew to appreciate writing and the beauty it beholds. She always made us feel like she cared about all of us, she reminded us constantly, provided us with lessons that were never busy work but instead unique and always encouraged being reflective on pieces we ‘finished’.”
Laurie Roberts, Timberline High School, Boise School District, Idaho. Nominated by Sydney Scott, who wrote on the importance of Miss Roberts’ ability to make students feel valued, “I know that I’m not the only student who feels this way about Miss Roberts. I can only hope to touch the lives of half as many kids as she has, and I think that that’s something to celebrate. Miss Roberts helped me to see the need for teachers who are not only passionate about the material that they’re teaching, but are passionate about people. To make each individual student feel special and like they were made to do something great is a truly beautiful thing.”
Juan Salamanca, Alturas Elementary School, Blaine County School District, Idaho. Nominated by Jackie Guzman, who wrote, ”Mr. Salamanca is a rare human being, he has a great positive attitude almost every time I see him, I never see him mad or upset. Another strength is the unconditional time and service he gives to his students outside of school, it seems as if Mr. Salamanca never stops teaching. If any one were to sit in one of his classes, they would be able to feel and presence the passion Mr. Salamanca has every time he teaches….the accomplishments of my inspirational teacher should be celebrated outside of the classroom because his dedication is sincere. The discipline he has with his job and his students is unique and admirable. Mr. Salamanca is a true inspiration for me and probably for many others who know him too.”
Shelby Beck, Craig High School, Prince of Wales, Alaska. Nominated by Joe Weyhmiller, history, secondary education. Regarding the importance of the social studies classroom, Joe wrote in his nomination “We gather a group of young people with vastly different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs, have them discuss the issues of our world, and give them skills for how to interpret and debate its problems. What other practice offers an equal amount hope, danger, and urgency bottled into one experience? I believe that the teachers who run these classrooms well – acting as helpful guides to the disciplines – deserve recognition from society as part of the reason that that society, especially a democratic one, functions.”
Melissa Bollinger, Victory Middle School, West Ada School District, Idaho. Nominated by Brittany Cebada, elementary education, who wrote, “students also always had the opportunity to share their work with their peers. This always felt like a gallery walk of sorts because there was usually variety within the assignments to appeal to students varied interest and because the assignments did provide a creative outlet…When I finally decided to pursue a degree in education I knew I would want to provide my future students with the same experience that this educator provided to me.”
Jodie Mink, Cambridge Jr./High School, Cambridge School District, Idaho. Nominated by Danielle Petitmermet, elementary education, who wrote on the importance of recognizing Mink’s accomplishments, “The accomplishments of Jodie Mink inside her classroom should be celebrated by our society outside of the classroom because of the lasting impact she has on her students. Jodie is always striving to be a better teacher for her students and this really shows through her teaching and compassion. Throughout Jodie’s time at Cambridge Middle-High School, Jodie has expanded her role from being the science teacher to teaching science and agriculture. Jodie coaches state and national winning teams/students in agricultural competitions and ensures that her students have the skills to be successful, though that they also are prepared to take risks.”
Jodi Wright, Adams Elementary School, Boise School District, Idaho. Nominated by Shawna Thompson, elementary education, who wrote, ”She not only taught us the curriculum, but taught it to us in a fun way. I remember in her class, learning about the community was a big part of the social studies curriculum. In her class, we had class jobs: these weren’t just the normal classroom jobs. We had a mayor, we had a police officer, a librarian, a nutritionist, a store manager, etc. These were jobs that taught us responsibility of not just ourselves, but also of others. Towards the end of the year, we had to go through an interview process to apply to get one of the jobs for the whole year. This was my first interview ever, and it prepared me far greater than I would have ever thought.”
Nikki Clark-Vega, Boise High School, Boise School District, Sports Medicine. Nominated by Kirsten Youngblood, elementary education. Regarding relationships Clark-Vega develops with her students, Youngblood wrote in her nomination “I think the relationships you create with your students is important and she is the perfect example of creating those life long relationships…I want to make as much of an impact on my students’ life as she has done with me.”
Maura Goddard, North Jr. High School, Boise School District, world studies. Nominated by Jacki Blackstone, elementary education, who wrote, “Maura showed me that being a teacher could really be fun, because it was obvious that she came into work every day and loved interacting with us. Her involvement went way past the classroom, attending student events, recommending students for positions and for colleges. She truly cares about her students, and I see a lot of my own teaching philosophy manifested from her.”
Bill Lavin, North Star Charter School, fourth grade. Nominated by Cassie (Berggren) Moore, elementary education. “From Idaho history and language to math and science, Mr. Lavin always expected the best from me. Because of his expectations, I strove to do my best,” wrote Moore in her nomination. “Mr. Lavin is truly great at every facet of education that I have learned about during my time at Boise State University. From his impeccable classroom management and motivational techniques to his hands on teaching style and support in the classroom, Mr. Lavin is the overall best teacher that I’ve ever had.”
Michael Casey Mattox, Renaissance Magnet High School, West Ada School District, Spanish, Arabic. Nominated by Jacqueline Woods, Spanish, secondary education. Woods nominated Mattox in part because “Mr. Mattox inspired me to become a teacher. I never thought I could because I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to college, that I could afford an education, or even what I would want to do if I did go to college. Mr. Mattox convinced me otherwise. He introduced me to both Arabic and Spanish, which have become my passion…though I had never studied a language before, he made Arabic so interesting that I knew in the first few weeks of my freshman year that I was going to do something with languages for the rest of my life.”
Sheryce Davis, Owyhee Elementary School, Boise School District; 5th and 6th grade general education teacher. Nominated by Amber Bigelow, who said, “After years of frustration and feeling like we couldn’t help our own daughter, Mrs. Davis looked at us at our daughter’s 3rd grade parent teacher conference and said she would be an advocate for our daughter as long as she needs it, even into college. I cried the whole way home from that life-changing meeting.”
Rich Lapp, Timberline High School, Boise School District; 10th-12th grade choir teacher. Kara Brocksome nominated Lapp and said he pushed his students to be better every day. “He taught me that caring and patience is key to being a good teacher. He led with love and high expectations that showed his students that he cared about our success as students and as future citizens of the community.”
Mary McGuire, Horizon Elementary School, Boise School District; Reading specialist. Stephani Pickkett nominated McGuire and said, “It was during her class that I understood that an education could never be taken from you, and that an education would be the only thing that could help you rise above your circumstances. I knew then that I would become a teacher.”
Brooke Roy, Rocky Mountain High School, West Ada School District; 9th-12th grade psychology, English teacher. Lauren Denny nominated Roy and said she wants to emulate the enthusiasm Roy brought to her classroom. “Now on the other side of education, I see her methods and understand why they were effective. I love the way she was able to go the extra mile for her students.”
Holly Kartchner, Blackfoot High School.In nominating Kartchner, Megan Dalley wrote, “Holly dedicates much of her own time to make her school a better place and her students independent thinkers. She cares for every student who walks through her door and makes sure that he or she knows how valuable he or she is.”
Herby Kojima, Eagle High School. In nominating Kojima, Kelly Lester wrote, “He does whatever it takes or is needed to provide students with the materials and skills they need to reach their goals. The love that he has for his school, his job, his subject and his students is unreal. Not only has Herby inspired me but he has also inspired many other students to work hard and do their best.”
Robbie Miller, Camas County High School. In nominating Miller, Megan Stampke said, “Mr. Miller has that persona that makes students want to be there, even with the workload that comes with math and science. His standards are high, but he is willing to give whatever support the students need to reach them.”
Andrea Symmonds, Bishop Kelly High School. In nominating Symmonds, Stephanie Scheibe wrote, “Her passion illuminated my desire to learn, and my desire to become the person I am today. She showed me that I could do just the same for my own students as an educator, and that led me to continue in my pursuit of my goals and dreams as an English educator.”
2013 Award Presentations
Gina Bush, Maple Grove Elementary School, Boise School District. In nominating Bush, Kayla Berlinguet wrote, “All activities were fun and exciting. For the first time, and one of the few times in my schooling, I couldn’t wait for the weekends to end or for recess to get over because I knew whatever we were about to do in Mrs. Bush’s class was going to be more engaging.”
Steve Hansen, Payette Lakes Middle School, McCall-Donnelly School District. In nominating Hansen, Angela Arechiga said, “Steve Hansen should be celebrated outside of the classroom because he understands that being a teacher doesn’t end when the bell rings. He would always remind us that we were the future and we needed to be the best we could be so that we could build a strong society filled with intelligent people.”
Jean Mortin, Grace Jordan Elementary School, Boise School District. In nominating Mortin, Macy Hettich said, “Going the extra mile is a common practice in Jean Mortin’s classroom…She is incredible at what she does and loves every minute of it…I have never known somebody so grateful for such a challenging career.”
Art Sprague, Peregrine Elementary School, Meridian School District. In nominating Sprague, Mysti Byrd wrote, “Mr. Sprague makes me want to be a better person, a better parent and a better teacher. His selfless ways are an example to all who have the fortune of meeting him.”
Marian Pritchett, Marian Pritchett School, Boise School District. The nomination for Pritchett, who died in 2002, said, “She always told her students that no matter what, we could do anything as long as we had the desire and drive to do it… She taught me what it means to be a teacher and I have wanted to become one ever since.”
2012 Award Presentations
Brenda Blanco, a 10th- to 12th-grade teacher at Twin Falls High School. Blanco teachers Spanish. She is currently teaching at Xavier Charter School in Twin Falls, Idaho. In nominating Blanco, Natasha Bortz said, “I was inspired by how she had high expectations for each student, went above and beyond to support each one, and cared for each individual.”
Kim Brydges, a 10th- and 11th-grade English teacher and head girls’ basketball coach in the Boise Independent School District. In nominating Brydges, Stephanie Wallace said, “Brydges, inspired me to become a teacher. She fueled my passion for literature and learning. She enabled me to express myself through writing.”
Sue Martin, a 9th- through 12th-grade teacher of journalism, yearbook, language and photography at Mountain Home High School in Mountain Home, Idaho. In nominating Martin, Tyler Zamora said “Sue Martin, an amazing teacher at Mountain Home High School, had a huge influence on me becoming an educator. She constantly pushed me in all areas of school and always had a positive attitude. While other teachers said you should further your education, she was able to explain why in a way that teenage kids understand. She didn’t do this just for me, it was for all students.”
Sharon Prindle, a 4th-grade teacher at Horizon Elementary School in Boise. In nominating Prindle, Anna V. Williamson wrote, “She was energetic, enthusiastic and confident. It was through her example and her attentiveness to me that I learned to develop these characteristics and more. Mrs. Prindle was the ultimate encourager.”
2011 Award Presentations
Karen Finch, a 5th- and 6th-grade teacher at Whittier Elementary in Boise. Finch teaches algebra and high-level mathematics, health, reading and spelling. Andrea Thiltgen, who nominated Finch, said, “Karen’s young-at-heart attitude inspires her students, their parents, and her colleagues at Whittier Elementary School. She believes that every student has raw talent and that each child can be successful when they find their niche and seize the opportunity to excel. I gain confidence knowing that there are teachers – like Karen – who empower, engage and impact numerous students every day.”
Darcy Jones, a kindergarten and general education teacher at Riverside Elementary in Boise and a Boise State alumnus. In nominating Jones, Amanda Campbell said, “Darcy is a model teacher who differentiates every lesson plan, connects with parents and builds bridges between home and school. Her hands-on approach to teaching encourages her young learners to explore and feel comfortable to attempt new tasks, to fail and to try again. This approach makes learning engaging and enjoyable, which sets the tone for her students throughout their academic careers.”
Harold Kerschensteiner, a 7th- and 8th-grade teacher at Lake Hazel Middle School in Boise. A Boise State alumnus, he teaches pre-algebra, algebra and geometry. In her nomination of Kerschensteiner, Megan Rowe wrote, “Harold has changed my life, from the time I was a 12-year-old student in his classroom to now being able to complete my student teaching with him. His constant encouragement and support have given me the confidence to know that I will be the best secondary education math teacher I can possibly be. He has shown me that it takes more than a college education to be a good educator. As author William Arthur Ward once said, ‘The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.’”
Marcia von Huene teaches orchestra at Centennial High School. In her nomination, Megan Willhite wrote that “Marcia’s main purpose is to help kids be the best and brightest musicians they can be. From the time I was a 15-year-old student of hers, until the time I was a student teacher in her classroom, Marcia has always inspired her students to reach for the stars and to never give up. Her presence in the classroom is always encouraging and uplifting, which never ceases to amaze me.”