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Alan and Wendy Pesky honor inspirational teachers during winter commencement

Boise State University’s College of Education and the Lee Pesky Learning Center will continue their annual tradition of honoring inspirational K-12 teachers at Boise State’s winter commencement ceremony on Dec. 21. The four teachers selected are Liz Batey from Riverglen Junior High School in Boise; Cosmo Lorusso from Roxbury High School in Succasunna, New Jersey; Shannon Murdoch from Mary McPherson Elementary in Meridian; and Taryn Waddell from Timberline High School in Boise. The awardees will be recognized on stage during the winter commencement ceremony. Each teacher also will receive $2,000 and their schools each will receive $500.

Each awardee was nominated by a graduating senior in the College of Education. Seniors choose those who have inspired them to seek their own careers in education. More about the Pesky Awards can be found here:

“This award is a statement about the important role that teachers play in our society,” said Alan Pesky, who co-founded the Lee Pesky Learning Center with his wife, Wendy. “We honor our policemen, we honor our soldiers, but rarely do we make opportunities for individuals to highlight the incredible, life-changing importance that teachers have had in their lives. Teachers are the most important influencing factor in the lives of children in our country, outside of parents. This award recognizes that.”

“What an honor it was to read the nominations for these four educators and then have the opportunity to share with them their selection as a Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching recipient!” said Jennifer Snow, interim dean for the College of Education. “This award celebrates the profession of teaching and acknowledges the ways in which teachers impact lives far into their students’ futures. We are so thankful to Alan and Wendy Pesky for this first-of-its-kind award for educators.”

Pesky Award winner Liz Batey

Liz Batey, music teacher

During a difficult period in her middle-school life, Batey’s former student Gabrielle 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.”

Now a pre-service teacher herself, Plaschka remembers how Batey always made things fun for her music students, made everyone feel included and validated, and how much all her students admired her as a teacher. Ten years later, Plaschka is still inspired by Batey’s passion for teaching.

“She instilled in me a passion for music that I carry to this day,” said Plaschka. “I can only hope to become half the teacher Ms. Batey is someday.”

Pesky Award winner CosmoCosmo Lorusso, English teacher

Allyson Kleinsorgen always knew she wanted to be a teacher. As a student in Cosmo Lorusso’s English class, she 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.”

Students are engaged in Lorusso’s classroom because he sees his students as more than just teenagers. Instead, Lorusso has an ability to see what they might become someday – “future CEOs, veterinarians, lawyers, psychologists, mothers and husbands,” said Kleinsorgen.

Lorusso often uses the books his English students are reading to teach not just the material, but the life lessons within the stories that he has experienced himself. His openness with his students has built a community in the classroom that Kleinsorgen admires. The trait she remembers as the most admirable about Lorusso is his class motto, which he recites every year on the first day: “Do the right thing all the time.”

Pesky Award winner shannonShannon Murdoch, former first-grade teacher and current principal

Jessica 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.”

Willis returned back to Murdoch for advice as she advanced through school, always knowing her first grade teacher was there for her regardless of her age. As a pre-service teacher, Willis has been placed for her teaching internship at Mary McPherson Elementary where Murdoch is now principal.

“Mrs. Murdoch continues to create that same safe and positive learning environment that I remember in her first grade classroom,” said Willis. “I continue to feel her love and support as I am now pursuing my career in education.”

Pesky Award winner TarynTaryn Waddell, English teacher

When Bella 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,” said Zito. “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.”

According to Zito, Waddell took any failure her students encountered as a teaching moment to impart a simple but important life lesson: that students can use failure to improve the next time. Zito also remembers Waddell assigning meaningful classroom work, making her an effective educator whose passion for her subject came through in every assignment.

As Zito prepares to become a teacher, she admires the qualities Waddell exemplifies most, that of an “effective educator, a caring confidant and an overall student favorite,” Zito said. “I hope to model these same qualities in my own classroom.”

The Peskys founded the Lee Pesky Learning Center in 1997 in honor of their son Lee, who passed away in 1995 at age 30 from a brain tumor. As a child, Lee had to learn skills to overcome processing dysgraphia, a problem with organizing letters, numbers and works on a line or page. The nonprofit center, headquartered in Boise, serves mainly children and some adults with learning disabilities, as well as those from economically challenged homes. The center also provides educational services for Idaho teachers.