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Boise State announces the 2020 Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching winners

Photo of Wendy and Alan Pesky.
Wendy and Alan Pesky at a Pesky Awards Luncheon, photo by Chandelle Arner

Boise State’s College of Education and the Lee Pesky Learning Center will continue the annual tradition of honoring inspirational K-12 teachers with the Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching at the university’s virtual winter commencement ceremony on Dec. 19.

This is the 10th year the award will be presented at winter commencement. The four teachers selected this year are: Annette Haag from Orofino Junior-Senior High School in Orofino; Shanon Holt from Borah High School in Boise; David Jones from Kuna High School in Kuna; and Brenda Mckenzie from Valley View Elementary in Boise.

The awardees recently were surprised in their classroom and presented with a plaque by their principal. Videos of the surprises will be played during virtual commencement to honor each recipient, along with congratulations from Alan and Wendy Pesky. The award includes $2,000 for each teacher and $500 for their school.

“Wendy and I believe teachers are the most important influencing factor in the lives of children, outside of their parents,” Alan Pesky said. “This award recognizes and honors those teachers who, by their extraordinary example, inspired a graduating student from the College of Education to follow in their footsteps and seek a career in teaching.”

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.

“It is an amazing statement to Idaho and the profession of teaching for the Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching to be in its tenth year,” said Jennifer Snow, interim dean for the College of Education. “Now more than ever, teachers truly are front-line workers, caring for youth and their academic, social and emotional development. The Pesky family deserves to be honored not only for their commitment to making learning accessible to all children, but also for this recognition that teachers are the heart of education. Teachers change more lives than those in their classroom, particularly when their students follow in their footsteps to the teaching profession.”

Annette Haag, Orofino Junior-Senior High School

Annette Haag – Orofino Junior-Senior High School

Haag teaches government, psychology, leadership, senior project and economics at Orofino Junior-Senior High School. She was nominated by former student Cynthia Guitron who remembers Haag going above and beyond for her students and fellow teachers, often arriving early and staying late to be there for others.

“Ms. Haag was so involved in the lives of her students and genuinely cared about everyone in the school,” Guitron said. “I remember always seeing other teachers coming into her room asking for help, advice or information on anything they needed.”

Now that Guitron is a teacher candidate, she recognizes how strenuous the profession can be at times and how much Haag truly cared for her students and their experience of school.

“It’s not easy to be a teacher, but Ms. Haag made class exciting and she created a community where everyone was happy to be. She inspired me to become a teacher because of how much she loves her students.”

Shanon Holt, Borah High School

Shanon Holt – Borah High School

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.”

Holt’s classes helped Biagi feel confident pursuing her lifelong passion for teaching early learners and prepared her for a career as an educator.

“She was able to provide many meaningful and worthwhile experiences that helped me become more comfortable in teaching settings,” said Biagi. “Her class was always packed with activities that would help us gain skills needed not only for working with children, but that helped us in our everyday lives. She is still someone who I can go to with any and all questions regarding education.”

Holt currently teaches family and consumer science.

David Jones, Kuna High School

David Jones – Kuna High School

Jones is the visual arts teacher at Kuna High School. Former student and nominator Rylee Newman developed a love for art in Jones’ classes during a tough time.

“I was constantly being bullied, and Mr. Jones opened up his classroom to me during my free time where I also served as his teaching assistant for a few semesters,” Newman said. “I would get to dive into my heart in his class and I always felt inspired and safe from the bullies.”

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.

“Mr. Jones respected you and your voice in how you chose to interpret art,” she said. “I remember a time when he took a piece of my art and entered it in the high school art show. I ended up winning third place but would have never entered without him.”

Today, Newman incorporates what she learned in Jones’ art class in her lesson plans as she pursues a degree in elementary education.

“I developed both a love for art and the classroom environment through Mr. Jones. With my degree, I can incorporate my love for art in the classroom,” Newman added.

Brenda Mckenzie, Valley View Elementary

Brenda Mckenzie – Valley View Elementary

Natalie Swesey is a student teacher in Mckenzie’s kindergarten classroom at Valley View Elementary. She nominated Mckenzie after witnessing the outstanding support she offers her kindergartners, especially during the COVID pandemic.

“During the first 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.”

Swesey has also felt personally supported by Mckenzie while being mentored as a student teacher.

“I am dyslexic and during my midterm conversation with her, we discussed how hard it was for me to do things because of my dyslexia,” said Swesey. “She told me that she was going to do some reading on ways to help me be successful. I have never had another teacher work with me on my disability and not judge me for something that I struggle with.”

Learn more about the Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching here.