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Boise State announces the 2021 Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching winners

Campus Scenes, Winter 2018, Taylor Lippman Photo

Boise State’s College of Education and the Lee Pesky Learning Center will honor four local K-12 teachers with the 11th annual Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching at the university’s winter commencement ceremony on Dec. 18.

The four teachers selected this year are: Mike Brushafer from Canyon Springs High School in Caldwell; James LeDoux from Renaissance High School in Meridian; Jake Miller from North Junior High in Boise; and Lisa Sterling from Hillside Junior High in Boise.

Each awardee was surprised in their classroom and presented with a plaque by their principal. Videos of the surprises will be played during commencement to honor each recipient, along with congratulations from each student nominator. The award includes $2,000 for each teacher and $500 for their school.

“Wendy [Pesky] and I believe teachers are the most important factor influencing 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 student graduating from the College of Education to follow in their footsteps and seek a career in teaching.”

The winners were nominated by a graduating senior in the College of Education. Seniors choose those who have inspired them to seek their own careers in education. Two of the four nominators were student teachers in their nominee’s classroom and observed first-hand how their teacher-nominee demonstrated exceptional mentorship and service to students during the pandemic.

“It is such an honor and a privilege to work with the Pesky family to recognize public school teachers at our winter commencement ceremony. Now more than ever, teachers need to be honored for the value they bring to their students’ lives and our communities,” said Jennifer Snow, interim dean for the College of Education. “Inspiring future generations of teachers is such an amazing way to participate in the complex, extraordinary profession of teaching. Thank you to all public school educators for all that you do every single day.”

Mike Brushafer, Canyon Springs High School

Mike Brushafer
Mike Brushafer

Mike Brushafer teaches mathematics at Canyon Springs High School in Caldwell, Idaho. He was nominated by former student Amber Alexander who didn’t realize she could excel at mathematics after falling behind until she was placed in Brushafer’s class.

According to Alexander, Brushafer’s unwavering, positive spirit and his unique ability to see his students’ strengths despite their struggles gave her the confidence she needed to understand math, even though she didn’t see herself as a “math person.” Alexander also wrote in her nomination letter that 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, Renaissance High School

James LeDoux
James LeDoux

In James LeDoux’s early college literature class, nominator Camryn Halford developed a 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.

“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,” Halford said.

Halford’s experience as a teacher candidate at Boise State has given her insight into and appreciation for LeDoux’s inquiry-based approach to teaching, which she uses as a model for her own approach to teaching.

“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.”

Jake Miller, North Junior High School

Jake Miller
Jake Miller

Jake Miller’s student teacher Sarah Absalonson nominated him for his unique approach to physical education at North Junior High, incorporating skills and experiences beyond what is typical in traditional K-12 physical education classes. Miller’s classes include outdoor education, fire building, knot tying and camping trips. He also teaches “Parkastics,” a unique combination of parkour and gymnastics that enhances students’ movement awareness and their ability to play sports. Miller is a second-generation winner of the award – his father Robbie also received the Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching in 2014.

During the pandemic, Absalonson observed Miller’s resourcefulness and creativity in action as he was able to adapt his teaching to the online environment, including measuring students’ progress virtually. Miller’s commitment to teaching skills that directly inspire students to lead active lives, wherever they are learning, has given Absalonson excellent examples to use in her own teaching career.

“Mr. Miller has inspired me as a physical educator regarding the use of creativity and resources,” Absalonson said. “He always puts his students first by prioritizing their physical and emotional safety as well as doing everything he can to make their learning experience in physical education a meaningful one.”

Lisa Sterling, Hillside Junior High School

Lisa Sterling
Lisa Sterling

Lisa Sterling has been exemplary as a mentor teacher to Alex Joe-Monday during Monday’s student teaching experience in Sterling’s English and communications classroom at Hillside Junior High. Sterling’s classes at Hillside focus on recent immigrants who are new learners of English, and she has inspired 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,” Joe-Monday said. “She inspires me to do better and see past a student’s difficulties to reflect on what we can do to help.”

Sterling often gathered extra resources for her students like clothing, food and healthcare products and delivered them to students at their homes during the pandemic.

“She is a positive light in this school and all of the students know they can come to her if they need anything,” Joe-Monday said. “Some of them even call her Mama Sterling.”

Learn more about the Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching here.

2021 Pesky Award recipients

Watch the 2021 Pesky Award for Inspirational Teaching recipients as they received the news in their classrooms and hear from the Boise State students who nominated them.