2013 Teacher of the Year celebrated

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.

Rangeview High School social studies teacher Amanda Westenberg receives flowers from her school’s principal after she was named the 2013 Colorado Teacher of the Year.

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”