Past Winners: Terry Higley K-12 Teacher of the Year

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L-R: Elena Farkas (Terry Higley Award Winner), Michele Whaley (2016 PNCFL TOY Candidate), Diana Painter (AFLA President), Aline Hopkins (Wolf Hollerbach Award Winner)
 2015: Elena Farkas

The Anchorage School District is the first district in the nation to have a K-12 Russian Immersion Program. This year is a pivotal year as we will be graduating our first group of seniors from the program, students who started with the program 13 years ago. This program would not have been possible without Elena Farkas. Elena, along with Janice Gullickson, were the masterminds behind the Russian Immersion program. Elena put in countless hours before the program began, and worked in the program, growing each year with its students. She taught Russian FLES classes for teachers and students in the neighborhood program at Turnagain Elementary for years, while also serving as the program coordinator. She developed curriculum, translated materials, gave countless tours of the program and hosted countless events for the positive publicity of the program. She helped to hire and train staff, and when the elementary students graduated from elementary school, she followed them to Romig, and then West, as their teacher. She has singlehandedly developed curriculum and taught each grade, 7-12. This year she is creating and teaching the final course in the program: Alaska and Russia – Historical Connections. She has established a solid and ongoing sister-school partnership with a school in St. Petersburg, and has led a variety of student trips on that exchange, as well as hosted multiple inbound exchanges from the Russian students who visit us from St. Petersburg. Like the Energizer Bunny, Elena keeps going. She is an active participant of MIR – the Russian Immersion Parent group, organized the annual Father Frost and Maslenitsa community events, teaches Russian at UAA, and in her spare time, tutors students. There is absolutely no doubt that without Elena, the ASD would have not Russian Immersion Program. She is a master inside and out of the classroom. As one administrator put it, “she has kids eating out of her hand, and they will do anything for her.”

Olga receives Terry Higley 2014

President Allison Brandt (left) presents Olga Piekarski (right) with the award

  2014: Olga Piekarski

Olga Piekarski is a strong kindergarten teacher who is well known throughout our state for her successful students. They don’t seem to be aware that that they are doing anything unusual, but they speak to strangers and perform on stage using beautiful Russian. They are happy to do so!

Olga does not hesitate to go beyond the school day and her own program to help students of Russian. She is active in the extracurricular programs at Turnagain, and has become a stalwart supporter of the Olympiada, a spoken competition of Russian for students who start Russian at middle and high school. She has provided guidance, linguistic advice and materials for the contest, and in spring of 2014 she even took leadership of the competition in an emergency situation.

Ms. Piekarski is a model for how we should be guiding our children to a love of languages.

Here is what one parent said about Olga Piekarski:

“Olga Piekarski reaches children. She is a once-in-a-lifetime teacher, the type of teacher every parent hopes his or her child has at least once, and who ignites in her students sparks that last. As an immersion teacher she ignites a love of language: mid-way through their second semesters of kindergarten, both my native English-speaking children read better Russian than they did English (and we were pleased with their reading in English!). As a teacher she ignites a love of learning: in her classroom, learning is a joyful and positive experience and practice. As an educator and model for children she creates and maintains an environment of safety and kindness, where children can be challenged and can challenge themselves. Ms. Piekarski is a gift to language immersion, to elementary education, and to the Anchorage School District. We are so lucky to have her.”

Kristi Senden
President Sabine Diekmann (right) presents Kristi Senden (left) with the award 
  2013: Kristi Senden
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