Alumni educators earn 2021 Alice Buffett Outstanding Teaching Awards

Published by Logan Tuttle 3 months ago on Fri, Jun 4, 2021 9:39 AM
Recently, five Concordia alumni who received either their master's or their ESL Endorsement were among the 15 recipients of the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award.

Recently, 15 Omaha Public Schools teachers and counselors were honored with the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award, recognizing the achievements of their skills and dedication.

Five of this year’s 15 recipients were trained at Concordia University, Nebraska – either receiving their master’s degree or their English as a Second Language endorsement. Given to 15 teachers annually, the Award has recognized and rewarded nearly 300 teachers of the past 20 years. Any OPS teacher or counselor (Pre-K through 12), with a minimum of two years of experience, is eligible for nomination. Coral Hannah, a former Concordia ESL endorsement course instructor, was also among the recipients.

Christine Koltas GR '18
Second grade, Rose Hill Elementary School

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Christine Koltas, originally from Pensacola, Florida, has been with OPS for 15 years, the past six at Rose Hill. She earned a bachelor's from the University of West Florida and her M.Ed. from Concordia University. In her nomination, a parent said, "Mrs. Koltas has been a beacon of everything positive during a very difficult time. I can see how she interacts with my son and the other students, is interested in what they have to say, and they are interested in what she has to say. She is making learning 'cool' and her positive attitude rubs off on the kids." 

What does it mean to you to receive this recognition? 

Honestly, my first few emotions were a feeling of being very humbled, grateful and surprised. Surprised because I was being recognized for a job that I love to do. I thought of my students and their families and how lucky I was to be at Rose Hill. Since the announcement, a few parents have sent me the letters they wrote when nominating me. Making an impact on students and families is really all teachers strive for. I cried reading those letters. I cried when I got that phone call. It really is very overwhelming.
 

Where does your passion for being an educator come from? 

From a very young age I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I have my second-grade picture hanging up in my second-grade classroom. My parents divorced when I was young and I remember I could not wait to get to school in second grade. My teacher made me feel special, loved and cared for. It was during that year that I developed a passion for education. It is something you have to work hard for but once you have it, it is yours. I want others to have that same feeling.
 

How has your experience in Concordia’s M.Ed. program prepared you for your vocation, your service as a teacher?

Rose Hill’s student population is about 30 percent refugees. Our Rose Hill families have respect for education but because of the language barrier, they know that they cannot help their children very much with school. I wanted to make sure that I could best meet the needs of all my students. I got my ESL endorsement first, then continued with Concordia to get my master's in TESOL. It was truly one of the best things I have ever done. Every single class helped me along the way. (Ok, that Research Methods class was tough!)
 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

Continuing your education is tough! I was like many others…I have children, my husband is military so at times he was gone for long periods of time and I was a little older. I have all of those extra responsibilities that so many adults have. I am so grateful that I made the time to get my master's at Concordia. I liked the rigor but also the support. I never felt alone in the process. I felt empowered when I completed my program.

Jeremy Wiemer GR '13
Industrial technology, North High School

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Jeremy Wiemer, originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, has spent his entire 13-year career with OPS at North High. He earned his bachelor's from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his M.Ed. from Concordia. In his nomination, a student said, "I got into robotics in middle school but never went far with it. Once I was in North High’s program, I excelled. Mr. Wiemer encouraged me to push myself and helped me gain confidence in not only myself but also the people on my teams."

What does it mean to you to receive this recognition? 

Since this award is one nominated by students, parents, alumni, and colleagues, it really means a lot to see what I am doing is making so much of a positive impact that students are willing to put in extra time to nominate me.


Where does your passion for being an educator come from?

I really love to watch students grow and the looks they have during that "aha moment" when they go from struggling to complete ownership of a skill and their understanding.
 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

Receiving this award is truly an honor because I was nominated by some of my students. I get to see my students grow from day-to-day and I can see that I am helping to impact their lives whether they know it or not. This award just shows that the students are grateful for the countless hours and weekends that are given up to provide them with opportunities.

ESL Endorsement Alumni​​​​​​

Hannah Holguin '20
Math, South High School

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Hannah Holguin, originally from Omaha, has been with OPS for eight years, four of them at South. She earned her bachelor's from Wayne State College and her master's from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In her nomination, a colleague wrote, "She makes herself available to tutor students and explain work in creative and fun ways. Hannah teaches the whole child, and she pours her heart into her work and into our school community.

 

What does it mean to you to receive this recognition? 

I am eight years into my teaching career. So many incredible and outstanding teachers go unrecognized. It is humbling to know that I am among those who have gone before me in receiving this award. 

 

Where does your passion for being an educator come from?

Growing up, school was always my safe place where I was validated as a learner and leader. Seeing my mother in education was inspiring and provided a great role model. 


How has your experience in Concordia’s ESL Endorsement program prepared you for your service as a teacher?

I was struggling to connect with the growing number of students for whom English is their second, third or fourth language. I felt empowered by Concordia’s ESL Endorsement program to reach and support all learners. Teaching is all about relationships and connections. I was equipped by Concordia’s program to grow in this area.  


Royonna Bristol '19
Science, Bryan High School

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Royonna Bristol, originally from Omaha, has spent her entire seven-year teaching career with OPS at Bryan. She earned her bachelor's and two master's degrees from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In her nomination, a colleague said, "She is a passionate educator who has a strong desire to make science applicable to the real world and who creates opportunities for her students to practice science in a real-world setting. Bryan High is lucky to have such an amazing educator."

What does it mean to you to receive this recognition?

I am beyond honored and humbled to be a recipient of the 2021 Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award. Being selected during what has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging and chaotic years in recent history, makes it even more meaningful.  


Where does your passion for being an educator come from?

From my earliest years as a student interested in science and the environment, I have always been cognizant of the lack of representation of black women and girls. Correspondingly, although women have made leaps and bounds in science during the past few decades, the representation of black, indigenous, and people of color has not been as substantial. Therefore, I became an educator to reach a multitude of students and remove barriers to engaging in the practice of science! I also use teaching as a means to transform and empower students to be agents of change in their communities. 


How has your experience in Concordia’s ESL Endorsement program prepared you for your service as a teacher? 

The ESL endorsement program offered through Concordia was a critical experience that allowed me to explore ways to affirm the unique histories and cultures of our students. I also gained a better sense of how to encourage academic conversations in the science-classroom using a variety of literacy-focused techniques.
 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

I would like to personally thank my parents and family for all their support and patience during the countless hours spent away from home. There are numerous colleagues, friends and mentors that have been influential in my journey as an educator. I'd like to especially thank Dr. Tom Bragg, Dr. Chris Schaben, Teresa Bender, Elisa Booth and Dr. Rony Ortega, for their advice and continued support. Lastly, thank you to my Bryan High School family, Go Bears!!!

 

Krissa Hollinger '16
Second grade, Dodge Elementary School

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Krissa Hollinger, originally from Kansas City, has taught at Dodge Elementary for the last 10 years. She earned her bachelor's from the University of Central Missouri and her master's from Creighton University. In her nomination, a parent wrote, "Mrs. Hollinger has been an absolute rock for her students during COVID. From making each of them feel special and included to addressing their emotional needs. Mrs. Hollinger is a creative and fierce advocate for her kids."

What does it mean to you to receive this recognition? 

Winning the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award is an honor beyond compare. When I heard I won, I honestly did not believe it was true. I felt frozen in time and had to just stand still until it became a reality. I feel there are so many teachers who deserve to be part of this recognition as this incredible honor is definitely a highlight of my life. I feel that being a teacher does not only mean I teach daily lessons in each subject area, but it involves such a deeper meaning. It involves forming meaningful relationships with students and families, being a mentor to all students even if they are not in your class, and teaching kids to love learning by building a curiosity toward knowledge. I feel all Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award recipients possess this same love toward being an educator and I am honored to be a member of this group.

 

Where does your passion for being an educator come from?

My mother definitely led me toward becoming an educator. However, my path toward becoming an educator was unlike many others. My bachelor’s degree was earned in Aviation – Professional Pilot. I began flying when I was seventeen years old and earned my pilot’s license at 18. I became a Certified Flight Instructor a few years later. Even while I was flying, I would constantly see items and wonder how they could be used in a reading center or to build a science experiment. I began to gain educational experiences through substitute teaching and working with students at my mother’s school where she was an elementary principal. At age 26, my husband and I moved to Omaha where I could not put off my desire to teach any longer. I attended Creighton University and earned my master’s degree in education. I have found my niche which brings me more joy and meaning in my life through looking into the eyes of my students each day.
 

How has your experience in Concordia’s ESL Endorsement program prepared you for your service as a teacher?

Concordia’s ESL program redefined me as a teacher in all subject areas toward becoming the teacher I have become. I was carefully taught effective and appropriate approaches to students, families, and communities from cultures different from mine. Reaching individual needs is just part of the process. I found I needed to do my homework by learning about their customs and values prior to greeting them at school. Learning about the many cultures within Omaha Public Schools was extremely important for families to see me as a person as well as their teacher. These techniques were learned from teacher modeling at Concordia. I learned that becoming the student in your own classroom can build a tower of knowledge toward effective best practices with students who want to be part of the class rather than apart from it.
 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

I am proud to be an Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award Winner because my mother also won this award in 2015. She is someone I look up to as an outstanding educator and I feel pride knowing that I am continuing to follow in her footsteps. My additional experience in receiving Concordia’s ESL certification has provided me with additional fortitude to continue teaching at a level that goes beyond meeting the needs of all my students. I am extremely thankful for these accomplishments.