Paul Banks K-12 teacher Jennifer Reinhardt received a second award for Alaska Teacher of the Year. She was chosen from four state elementary school educators nominated for the award.
Reinhardt said she was surprised to learn of the nomination.
“I didn’t know anything about it until I got an email saying someone had nominated me. It was a first for me,” she said. “I had to decide whether or not I wanted to respond to the nomination because there are four levels of material that must be submitted.”
These included submission of a resume and essay, letters of recommendation, a video of the instructional time and a presentation explaining why she chose that lesson, and an interview with the state Early Learning Department’s awards committee, she said.
Even after Reinhardt received 14 letters of recommendation, she still didn’t know who had nominated her. But she decided to go ahead with the application process.
Reinhardt has been teaching at Paul Banks Elementary School for 16 years. “I’ve been teaching kindergarten or first grade all that time and I feel like I’ve been very lucky with that consistency,” he said.
During that time period, the biggest changes it has undergone have been in the curriculum material. “I’ve also seen four different managers and they all have their own ‘flavor’ or intentions that they bring to the table in that realm,” she said.
One thing you’ve seen, especially in Paul Banks but in Homer schools in general, is more experiential learning out in the open.
“We’re really honing in on the science of teaching kids, in general, but a big push right now is the science of reading and teaching kids to read. Although human brains learn to read at different rates, they all do so in the same way. All children can learn to read efficiently, effectively and accurately,” she said.
When Reinhardt started teaching, teachers had certain strategies for dealing with problems like dyslexia, but there was no definitive tool to address some of the problems seen, she said.
“For me, the new data on the science of reading has been one of the most exciting things I’ve been able to tap into in recent years,” he said. “As technology advances, we’re able to see more images of the brain as these processes occur, things in the past that we thought were just symptoms of disorders, but there’s actually a lot of plasticity to strengthen reading pathways.”
Reinhardt is also responsible for math, science and art, but the elementary school also has a specialist in physical education and music.
“At Paul Banks we have an outdoor classroom, but we are also right on the Calvin and Coyle trail system. We are lucky to have so many mini habitats and ecosystems within walking distance of the school. We try to get the kids outside every day,” she said.
She said she was also proud of the school’s dedication to meeting the needs of all students.
“I think it’s pretty amazing that at Paul Banks we have a strong approach to incorporating and including all children in our school, especially children with special needs because we have a very strong intensive needs program. Their peers really accept them here and it’s a great start for them. The school has had a culture of social support for a long time,” Reinhardt said.
In addition to being a finalist for the Alaska Teacher of the Year Award, Reinhardt has also been nominated for the 2023 National Life Changer of the Year Award by Hollins Emili, Grant Specialist for Comprehensive Alaska State Literacy Development (CLSD). The results of the National award will be presented in 2024.