AURORA – Granted, the Rangeview High School students clapped as vigorously for the free Blue Bell ice cream they would receive at lunch as they did over the fact one of their teachers won Colorado’s top teaching honor.
But through the teenaged giddiness came true respect for one of their favorite teachers – social studies teacher Amanda Westenberg.
Westenberg was named Colorado Teacher of the Year at a school assembly Friday morning. She said the process leading up to the honor involved many sleepless nights and re-writes of essays edited by her exacting father.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Westenberg said of the outpouring of community support. “The support shows how much teachers mean. Teachers truly impact and change lives. Every single person has a favorite teacher. I don’t think anyone can say they don’t.”
Senior Jada Boyd made a moving tribute to her favorite teacher, describing for the crowd how she once hated history.
“She was one of the most vibrant teachers I ever met,” Boyd said. “She didn’t sit at her desk the whole time having us read from textbooks. She was up and running around the room giving help and advice.”
She had never had a teacher interact with her so closely, the girl said, asking her if she needed help or had any stories to tell about her life.
One of Boyd’s most notable experiences in high school was her participation in History Day competitions. She created a website under Westenberg’s tutelage.
”I found myself working harder than I ever had,” Boyd said. “When students didn’t have oomph to continue pushing, she didn’t give up on the students.”
Boyd ended her lengthy remarks with, “You changed my life in so many ways, and what you have done cannot be replaced. I love you.”
Perks come with the title
As Colorado’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, Westenberg will not only receive an abundance of mint chocolate chip and cookie dough ice cream, courtesy of program sponsor Blue Bell Creameries, but a new Smart Board for her classroom, a $7,500 check from the Colorado Free Masons, lots of professional development and free college courses at Adams State University, and props from educators far and wide as she hits the educational tour circuit.
Not only that, she will attend a ceremony at the White House and go to space camp for a week.
“We know that there is no more important school-based factor in a child’s education than an effective teacher in the classroom,” said Helayne Jones, president and CEO of the Colorado Legacy Foundation, which supports the Teacher of the Year program.
Westenberg was selected for the honor based on her expertise, student achievement and her ability to inspire students. Students praised her for her inspirational leadership around History Day.
Ron Fay, Rangeview principal, described Westenberg as a “dedicated, talented educator who has a positive impact on students and colleagues. She understands the learning process to a degree that is rare.”
Westenberg, a teacher for eight years, serves as the social studies department chair at Rangeview. At the high schol, she also developed interactive Advanced Placement curriculum and was named Rangeview Teacher of the Year in 2010-2011 by her students.
Colleague and teacher Kasi Mireles had this to say about Westenberg in the Teacher of the Year application:
“Amanda has original and inventive strategies for engaging students in U.S. history. When she teaches, she is able to hook students into the content and help them make meaning of the past and connect it to their own lives.”
Superintendent John Barry also gushed about a member of his staff who came here from Hawaii.
“Amanda is dedicated to her students, dedicated to the teachers and staff at school, and now she is dedicated to the state of Colorado,” Barry said.