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BP Recognizes 10 Anchorage Teachers of Excellence


BP will recognize 10 Anchorage educators selected as Teachers of Excellence for 2014. The 19th annual program recognizes teachers throughout Alaska for their dedication to teaching and inspiring students.

The 2014 Anchorage BP Teachers of Excellence are:

Adam Ahonen

Robert Service High School, Life Skills, grades 9-12

Geep Baranow

Alpenglow Elementary School, Music

Michelle Carton

Highland Tech Charter School, Language Arts, grades 6-11

Betsy Connell

Girdwood K-8 School, Resource, grades K-8

Laurel DePalatis

South Anchorage High School, Chemistry

Jessica Frick

Ravenwood Elementary School, fourth grade

Lori Miller

Gruening Middle School, Computer Technology, grades 7-8

Marie Miller-Russell

Aquarian Charter School, kindergarten and first grade

Thomas V. Shelley

A. J. Dimond High School, Junior Reserve Officers’ Training

Deborah Svendsen

Mount Spurr Elementary School, First grade teacher

These teachers will be honored at an award reception on April 28 in Anchorage. This was a record year for BP Teachers of Excellence with 1,400 nominations, and the 10 Anchorage teachers are among 33 Alaska educators being honored as part of the 2014 program.

Each BP Teacher of Excellence receives a $500 gift card and an award certificate. In addition, the teacher’s school receives a matching $500 grant. One Anchorage teacher will be chosen as BP’s Teacher of the Year to be announced at the April 28 reception. That teacher will receive a $1,500 scholarship for continuing education and a bronze sculpture by Alaska artist Mary Regat.

“Recognizing outstanding Alaska educators is among the most rewarding and important aspects of BP’s investment in Alaska,” said BP Alaska Regional President Janet Weiss. “The oil and gas industry contributes to nearly half of Alaska’s education funding, so it is an honor to say thank you to those ensuring Alaska’s young people are receiving a quality education.”

Teachers of Excellence bios:

Adam Ahonen has been teaching for a decade at Service High School. A life skills teacher with a major emphasis on peer teaching, Ahonen says the program is unique as it builds bonds between students and peer teachers. Outside of school Ahonen volunteers with many organizations including Special Olympics, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and the Alaska Humanities Forum.

Geep Baranow teaches music at Alpenglow Elementary School where he has the opportunity to interact with every student in the school. Teaching for more than 20 years, Baranow is passionate, enthusiastic, and willing to go above and beyond. He involves his school choirs in performances throughout the state, making community bonds stronger through music.

Michelle Carton is a language arts and life skills teacher at Highland Tech Charter School. She says students tell her she is a hard teacher, but she understands them.  Outside of the classroom Carton is involved in a variety of programs including coaching middle school debate, starting a dance team, and coaching students in vocal development.

Betsy Connell has been the resources teacher, educating special needs students at Girdwood K-8 School for 25 years. In the small school in a small town, it is not unusual for Connell to work with students for multiple years, and she tailors each educational experience. Outside of school, Connell is involved in all aspects of Girdwood life including Challenge Alaska, The Girdwood Fine Arts Camp, and the Four Valleys indoor and outdoor soccer programs.

Laurel DePalatis brings chemistry to life at South Anchorage High School, holding fire demonstrations every Monday to grab her students’ attention. An educator for 20 years, DePalatis believes hands-on labs and experiments infuse the sense of wonder into education. DePalatis takes her high school chemistry students to Huffman Elementary to help run their Night of Math and Science; she’s the videographer for the South choir, and helps out with student government.

Jessica Frick teaches fourth grade at Ravenwood Elementary School, inspiring students by challenging them to take risks, use their resources, and be creative. Frick believes all students have the ability to do great things, and it is her job to teach them to think outside the box, be curious and ask questions. Frick runs an after school reading group, serves as a mentor teacher for university students, is involved with her church, and her family belongs to the Mustang Hockey Association.

Lori Miller wants her students to dream big and not limit themselves as she teaches computer technology at Gruening Middle School. With more than two decades of teaching, Frick says real world applications help students realize what they can be doing with their lives in the future. After a trip to South Africa where she saw students learning in dismal conditions, Miller helped set up a trust fund where Gruening’s school-based business donates part of its profits to provide upgrades to the South African school.

Marie Miller-Russell teaches kindergarten and first grade combined at Aquarian Charter School. Miller-Russell focuses on teaching the whole child and tells her students everyone makes mistakes, but the key is learning from those mistakes. In addition to her classroom duties, she helps with Lemonade Day (a national program encouraging entrepreneurship), teaches Art Camp, and plans family fitness nights for the school and community.

Thomas V. Shelley is the JROTC instructor at Dimond High School who uses excellence as a watchword, and teaches his students to do the best possible job at whatever they set their hands to do. Shelley is a role model as she serves as a coach, a mentor, and ingrains integrity into each student. Outside of JROTC, Shelley is deeply involved in high school wrestling and runs the website covering wrestling in Alaska.

Deborah Svendsen has been an educator for nearly 20 years and teaches first grade at Mount Spurr Elementary. Teaching military kids on JBER gives her many opportunities to integrate military personnel into the classroom and involve the students in the activities of the base. Svendsen is involved in a number of community activities as well as keeping her students in touch with their deployed parents and extended family members through a special website.

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