Thank You Teacher

Recognition Ceremony
2019–2020

Emotional event honors Thank You Teacher winners

Lincoln Public Schools is proud to announce this year’s Thank You Teacher award winners. The winners, along with those who nominated them, were honored during an emotional event Thursday morning at the Governor’s Mansion.

Nominators read their letters aloud during Thursday’s event. They often were moved to tears, as were the winners. Henjes may have best summed up Thank You Teacher in her nomination letter for Noonan, a music teacher at Southeast. Henjes will soon be a teacher herself.

“Now, as I am on the heels of entering my very own classroom, I know I want to be the kind of difference maker Mrs. Noonan is in my life,” Henjes wrote. “I’m going to have students walking into my classroom who need someone to believe in them just as I did. I now get to take all that she has done in my life and share it with the students of my own. I am going to have the absolute privilege of being their ‘Mrs. Noonan.’ One of the greatest things about being a teacher is that the lessons you teach them today are going to be lessons that they are able to use the rest of their life.”

Kelli Czarnick wrote a moving tribute to Morley teacher Kris Sprague. Sprague had a lasting impact on Czarnick’s late daughter Alex: “Mrs. Sprague was more than a teacher, she was a mentor. She always asked about Alex and was waiting with a hug and smile. This continued throughout Alex’s life. Alex kept the book she was given in first grade and the Eeyore stuffed animal. She pulled Eeyore out when she was struggling. She went to events at Morley and made sure to talk to Mrs. Sprague. Mrs. Sprague always had time for Alex.”

Former Belmont student Molly Schnabel, now a school social worker in Bellevue, described how it became more clear as time passed what an amazing teacher she had in Bobbie Ehrlich: “What I remember most about being in Bobbie’s classroom is the love and individual attention that she showed to not only me, but to all of my fellow classmates. I can say with absolute certainty that Bobbie loved all of us as though we were her own children. She got to know us and our stories and she took care of us when we needed it.”

And Southeast sophomore Alivia Neater learned more than math from retired Irving teacher Julie Hunter: “Whenever I pause to think about teachers I’ve had throughout my life, a lot of great ones come to mind – almost all of the people who’ve taught me have had some kind of positive impact on me, shaping me into who I am today. But, when I think of the teacher who impacted my life the most, and brought me the most joy along with quality learning, Ms. Julie Hunter is always the woman that comes to mind.”

In addition to winners and their nominators, also speaking on Thursday were LPS Superintendent Steve Joel; Lincoln Board of Education President Lanny Boswell; Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matt Blomstedt; and Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird. Jill St. James from AlphamediaUSA served as the event’s emcee.

The Thank You Teacher event is sponsored by Lincoln Public Schools and KFOR/KFRX radio.

Five educators were selected from more than 500 written nominations in the annual contest, which asks students or former students to write about how a favorite teacher impacted their lives. This year’s Thank You Teacher awards went to:

Preschool-Grade 2

Kris Sprague, Morley Elementary School, nominated by Kelli Czarnick, parent

Grades 3-5

Bobbie Ehrlich, Belmont Elementary School, nominated by Molly Schnabel, former student

Middle School

Jordan Sorge, Culler Middle School, nominated by Leiah Eberhardt, Culler student

High School

Missy Noonan, Lincoln Southeast High School, nominated by Abby Henjes, former student

Retired

Julie Hunter, retired from Irving Middle School, nominated by Alivia Neater, Southeast student

Photos from the 2020 Thank You Teacher Celebration

Program

Welcome

Jill St. James
AlphamediaUSA

Speakers

Steve Joel
Superintendent
Lincoln Public Schools

Matt Blomstedt
Commissioner of Education
Nebraska Department of Education

Leirion Gaylor Baird
Mayor
City of Lincoln

Lanny Boswell
President
Lincoln Board of Education

Awards Presentation

Steve Joel and Jill St. James

Letters and Comments

Students and Teachers

Closing Remarks

Jill St. James

This event is sponsored by:
KFOR, KFRX, Lincoln Public Schools, Lincoln Education Association and the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools

Five educators were selected among 500 written nominations in the annual Thank You Teacher contest, which asks students throughout the community to write about how a favorite teacher impacted their lives. The event is sponsored by Lincoln Public Schools and KFOR/KFRX radio.

  • Kindergarten–2nd grade
  • 3–5th grade
  • Middle School
  • High School
  • Retired

Kris Sprague

School
Morley Elementary

Nominated By
Kelli Czarnick, Parent

Imagine leaving a city, schools, and everyone you know to start over and live with someone strange. Being the “new kid” a few weeks after school has started, and having a lot of anxiety in general. But before you start school, your teacher makes you a book with pictures of the classroom, herself, and things you will need to be acquainted with when you start. That’s how first grade started for Alex.

Throughout the entire first grade year, Alex had to have her two minutes first thing in the morning to talk to Mrs. Sprague in order to be able to effectively start her day. And she was given that. Not only that year, but the following year as well before Alex would trot off to her second grade classroom. There was a strong connection with Mrs. Sprague from the beginning, and this continued throughout Alex’s time at Campbell Elementary School.

Then it was the end of 4th grade and Mrs. Sprague was leaving Campbell. Alex was given an Eeyore stuffed animal as a reminder of this wonderful teacher who was not going to be there for the first time since Alex moved to Lincoln. We moved at the same time and ended up at the same school where Alex was able to continue to connect with Mrs. Sprague in fifth grade as well.

Mrs. Sprague was more than a teacher, she was a mentor. She always asked about Alex and was waiting with a hug and smile. This continued throughout Alex’s life. Alex kept the book she was given in first grade and the Eeyore stuffed animal. She pulled Eeyore out when she was struggling. She went to events at Morley and made sure to talk to Mrs. Sprague. Mrs. Sprague always had time for Alex.

Mrs. Sprague became a friend of the family as well. She understood Alex and some of the struggles we went through at school. She listened when I, as her mom, had struggles with Alex. When I needed to talk or vent she always had hugs for me as well. That’s why when Alex was taken to the hospital and placed on life support I knew she needed to know. We talked and cried. After Alex died, she was one of the first to come over and offer support. Again, we talked and cried.

Mrs. Sprague is so much more than a teacher. She gives herself to her students and figures out what they need and meets them where they are. For us she became an extension of our family, in some ways, as she meant so much to Alex and to me. She goes above and beyond and truly cares. I know if Alex were here, she would be the first to want to nominate Mrs. Sprague for this award, and it is my honor to do it for her.

Bobbie Ehrlich

School
Belmont Elementary

Nominated By
Molly Schnabel
Former student

I am writing to nominate Bobbie Ehrlich for the 2020 Thank You Teacher Award. Bobbie was my teacher both in third and fifth grade at Belmont Elementary School in the early 1990s. I will attempt to describe the impact she has had on my life, but I hope the fact that I am nominating her some 30 years later speaks louder than anything I can put into words.

What I remember most about being in Bobbie’s classroom is the love and individual attention that she showed to not only me, but to all of my fellow classmates. I can say with absolute certainty that Bobbie loved all of us as though we were her own children. She got to know us and our stories and she took care of us when we needed it. I did not fully understand at the time the challenges that many of my fellow classmates were experiencing outside of school. As I grew older with those same peers I learned that some were living in homes that did not speak English, some were on the brink of homelessness or extreme poverty, and a few had parents battling addiction. What I did understand, even in third grade, is that Bobbie gave up her lunches for students that needed one-on-one time. I understood how it felt when she called us at home to check on us if we were sick for an extended time. I understand that she wanted us to do well, often organizing and sponsoring special projects so we all had an opportunity to feel important, giving us a chance to shine, regardless of what was going on at home.

I remember a particular day that I must have been worried about something that would be happening in the evening. I remember Bobbie giving me a hug, telling me it would be alright and promising me that she would check on me first thing the next morning. When I arrived the next day we had a substitute teacher but Bobbie had left me a kind note and a picture of her arms giving me a hug. At the time all I knew was that it felt good to get that note. As a current educator, what I realize now is that she was most likely sick or had something else going on outside of school far more important than my third grade problem, and on top of the detailed sub plans she had to organize on short notice, she still took the time to come in and leave that note. There are no reading, math or behavioral interventions that can mimic the feeling of being special, how Bobbie made me feel on that day and countless others.

I am now a school social worker in Papillion and in the last several years I have developed a new understanding of Bobbie’s influence on my life and what makes her the outstanding educator she continues to be. In a current educational world that emphasizes test scores, research-based instructional strategies, and tiered interventions to meet student needs, I realize now that Bobbie had all of this figured out 30 years ago: she simply loved us. It was because of her love that we felt safe, important and confident enough to try hard things. I carry her influence with me when I meet with tough students that I don’t know how to help. I try to remember the long-term impact I can have when I’ve tried every intervention with a kid and am still not seeing success. I remind myself that the one thing I can control is the love that I show to them regardless of their behavior or choices, just like Bobbie did for me.

I have had the blessing of checking in with Bobbie every few years when I run into her at various sporting events in the community. More often than not, she is there watching one of her former students and every time I see her she asks me about some of the friends I had back in third grade. Often times she asks me about kids that even I did not remember were in my class! I can assure you that if I put out a request to those students to write a letter of support, not one would hesitate to echo the same sentiments expressed in this letter. The only difference being that their letters would be sprinkled with their individual stories of the times when Bobbie made them feel special.

I hope you will consider Bobbie for this well-deserved honor.

Molly Schnabel
School Social Worker
Papillion-La Vista Community Schools

Jordan Sorge

School
Charles Culler Middle School

Nominated By
Leiah Eberhardt,
Culler student

I would like to nominate Mr. Sorge for Thank You Teacher because he has made me understand what life is truly about.

Last year, when I was in the seventh grade he wasn’t just my social studies teacher, he was more like my life coach. At the beginning of first semester I wasn’t the best student. I was a leader but not in a good way. I think I was acting up because of all that I have been through. It has been hard to find my place as a foster-adopted child living in a family that is not quite as diverse as I am. When I was acting out, he made me understand that it wasn’t fair to the rest of the class. Mr. Sorge called me on my behavior in a way that made me understand that he was serious, but never made me feel like I was a bad person.

Even though Mr. Sorge was supposed to teach me social studies he made the effort to also teach me how life works. It is so easy for some of us to get frustrated when things don’t go our way and how easy it can be to blame everyone else for our problems. But he showed me that the only way to get respect is to earn it by being respectful of my peers, myself and anyone I came into contact with. I know he probably doesn’t know it, but I feel like Mr. Sorge taught me a lot more about life than he did social studies. It was a very difficult time for me, as it was for everyone else, but without his guidance my seventh grade year could have been a lot different and a lot worse.
I know that the rest of our seventh grade class students and staff would agree with me when I say that Mr. Sorge made a difference at our school even though he was still a pretty new teacher. Mr. Sorge also helped me realize that things in life aren’t always random and that everything happens for a reason. It could be an accident or a choice that one makes, but there is always something to learn. Every time he gave me a pep talk it felt as if he was saying, I want you to succeed in life whether you find your dream career or not. He had a way of letting you know he truly cared about you as a person, without even having to say it.

I would really like to thank Mr. Sorge for what he has done in my life. He never treated me any different than anyone else, even when I felt different because I was adopted. I appreciate that he took time to help me out when I needed good role models. And I think that is how every one of my siblings felt too. Even though he had to put up with three Eberhardts in the same grade, he never let any of us down.

Thank you, Mr. Sorge.

Missy Noonan

School
Southeast High School

Nominated By
Abby Henjes,
Former student

I am currently just a few months out from graduating college and achieving my dream of being a teacher. I’ve dreamt of this moment since I was little. I loved school with all of my heart and still enjoy it to this day. Now that I’m older and about to step into my very own classroom, I get to think about who I want to be like as a teacher. When I think about who I want to be, I can’t help but think that I want to be a difference maker. I want to be like the biggest difference maker in my life, Mrs. Noonan.

I walked into choir on that first day of my sophomore year, anticipating a fantastic year of singing. I knew I was bound to learn some new things and excited to see what songs we would sing. All of those wonderful things became reality. However, this was also the start of one of the most special relationships to me, to this day. The person standing in front of me was someone who was going to change my life and I had no idea at that moment.

High school can be tough. It’s a time of figuring out who you are. It’s a time when I personally felt a lot of self-doubt. It was so easy for me to believe that I wasn’t good enough in a lot of ways. However, Mrs. Noonan didn’t let me believe that for too long. My relationship with her grew quickly and everyday, I couldn’t help but walk away from choir feeling like I was loved. She intentionally took time out of the day to get to know us. She greeted us at the door. She would ask us about our day. She just truly cared about getting to know us. This was evident. And this was only the beginning.

I was lucky enough to have Mrs. Noonan as my teacher until the day I graduated. Throughout those three years, Mrs. Noonan was always there for me. She would always be the first person I would head to when I was having the greatest day ever or having a tough one. She celebrated with me. And she supported me as I navigated the waters of life. I didn’t have to be anyone except the person I truly was. I often times got so caught up in figuring out who I should be that Mrs. Noonan would repeatedly tell me, “Let Abby Be Abby.” I eventually repeated that to myself time and time again. In the end, I was able to confidently look at myself in the mirror and know that I am someone who is wonderful. Mrs. Noonan spoke such truth into my soul when those teenage insecurities began to take over my mind.

When in the presence of Mrs. Noonan, it is hard not to feel like you aren’t loved. Year after year, I hear stories about Mrs. Noonan impacting people’s lives. She is simply so intentional about appreciating her students right where they are at and challenging them to be the greatest versions of themselves that they can possibly be.

As a future educator, I know that “relationships matter.” I know that the learning won’t happen until your students can trust you and until they believe that you care about them. And well, Mrs. Noonan did. This led her to truly being able to bring the best choir experience I could have ever asked for. Those relationships she formed with her students led it all. Performing can be nerve wracking. Auditioning for solos can be absolutely terrifying. However, the community she set up in her classroom made everything just a bit easier. When Mrs. Noonan told us it was going to be okay when we sang by ourselves, we believed her. When Mrs. Noonan brought up new ideas, we bought into them because we knew she had our best interest at heart. I remember standing on that stage at Southeast High School, smiling, as the audience applauded me. I was proud of the performance we gave. However, more importantly, I was proud of the growth that occurred during that quarter. Both musically and as a person. Through music, Mrs. Noonan taught us how to be better people than we were the day before. Getting high school students to buy into what you are trying to teach them can be a tricky task, but Mrs. Noonan did. And she did it incredibly well.

I thought I was walking into the choir room sophomore year for a choir experience. I got one. A truly incredible one. But, as I look back I got so much more than an experience in choir. I gained an incredible role model, a strong support system, an encourager, and life-changing wisdom.

Now, as I am on the heels of entering my very own classroom, I know I want to be the kind of difference maker Mrs. Noonan is in my life. I’m going to have students walking into my classroom who need someone to believe in them just as I did. I now get to take all that she has done in my life and share it with the students of my own. I am going to have the absolute privilege of being their “Mrs. Noonan.” One of the greatest things about being a teacher is that the lessons you teach them today are going to be lessons that they are able to use the rest of their life. Although it has now been three years since I have been in Mrs. Noonan’s class, the impact she has had on me and the lessons she has taught me have propelled me to where I am today. Mrs. Noonan will always be someone I deeply cherish because of the incredible difference she made in my life.

Julie Hunter

School
Former teacher,
Irving Middle School

Nominated By
Alivia Neater,
Sophomore, Southeast High School

Whenever I pause to think about teachers I’ve had throughout my life, a lot of great ones come to mind – almost all of the people who’ve taught me have had some kind of positive impact on me, shaping me into who I am today. But, when I think of the teacher who impacted my life the most, and brought me the most joy along with quality learning, Ms. Julie Hunter is always the woman that comes to mind.

Ms. Hunter was my eighth-grade math teacher, and one of the best people I’ve ever known, helping me understand the subject I had so much trouble with, and bringing joy to me no matter how horrible of a day I had. Plus, she shares a birthday with me on May 3rd, which is a pretty interesting coincidence. Overall, there’s a lot of reasons why I wanted to write and thank Ms. Hunter, and let her know lovely of a teacher she was to so many people over the years.

First, I should probably preface this with the fact that I am not very skilled in math – awful even, and I’ve never quite liked it as a subject. It has always been something I’ve had a hard time understanding, and I’ve never really been able to get the grades I wanted in the subject. But, when I had Ms. Hunter, I felt like I understood more than I ever had before – and I daresay math was fun for once. When I began Algebra class, I actually started to really enjoy doing problems, and as the year went on even gained a budding understanding of the mystery that was mathematics. The amount of energy she gave while teaching was probably one of the biggest factors, too. She always seemed so passionate, which in turn made me enthusiastic, too. Her humor also kept me engaged, as she always had a good joke to get our attention. Even when she did use humor, she was ready to get straight to work afterwards, making sure no time was wasted while teaching us.

Another one of the most notable things about Ms. Hunter’s teachings were her songs. Ms. Hunter had a slew of songs that she used to help us remember things, some well known in the math community, and others her own design. Part of math that’s always tripped me up was the memory aspect, so having funny little songs to sing always made things a lot easier to remember. Even today, I still hear the kids who had her class singing the songs, as they’ve still stuck with us from when she taught them, making sure we all got up and danced before we moved on.

Another part of why I enjoyed Ms. Hunter’s class so much was because of how she could cheer me up, even in the absolute worst of times. Unfortunately, while my eighth grade year was amazing in some ways, it was awful in others, mostly in terms of my mental health. Ms. Hunter always had the power to cheer me up, even when I’d arrive in class trying to hide the fact that I was quite worked up and completely without self-esteem. Algebra became my favorite class because of that – it was a shining light in my day, and helped me cope with all that was going wrong. And for that, I give my deepest thanks to Ms. Hunter. She helped me make it through, and kept me believing that there was still hope, even if some of the people around you didn’t believe in you. If I didn’t have Algebra class to keep me afloat, I’m sure things would be quite different today.

Finally, one of the core reasons why I want to thank Ms. Hunter is the amount of fun memories I have of her class aside from the learning. Remembering how many strange inside jokes the whole class had together is very enjoyable, as they made little sense to those outside of the class, but it didn’t matter. I specifically remember one time where Ms. Hunter was writing on the board, and managed to shoot a dried marker into the trash can, and excitedly, she began cheering and jogging around like a soccer player who had just gotten a goal, much to everyone’s amusement. It was a nice break from our learning, but it was also so much fun to laugh together, and see Ms. Hunter laughing along with us. Looking back, the environment of the class almost felt like a family, and that really helped me feel at ease and not worry about seeking help. It’s also probably no coincidence that I met two of my best friends in that class, as everyone within those walls bonded because of the friendly and memorable learning environment we were put in.

Sometimes, old teachers I’ve had comes up in conversation, and when bringing up Ms. Hunter, there’s never a single person that disliked her. Her teaching style was impeccable, and no matter who you were, she would try her best to push you in the right direction and befriend you, guiding you through algebra with a careful hand. Along with all that, some of the memories I have of the class are also still with me physically, sitting on my desk as I write this letter. Ms. Hunter had a strange accumulation of objects she had found – toys, knick knacks, and about five boxes of raisins that just kept multiplying. At the end of the year, Ms. Hunter had a drawing to give out all the stuff, as she was retiring the next year, and our class was her final hurrah. Even today, I still have the things she gave to me: an orange My Little Pony, and a strange figure of an old woman with only one movable leg. Both of these toys are ridiculous, and never things I would keep normally, but because of the memories attached to them, I keep them to remember Ms. Hunter and how much fun I had in her class. Since the class ended on the last day of eighth grade, those toys haven’t moved from my desk, right where I can easily see them.

Overall, from what I wrote, you can tell how amazing of a teacher Ms. Hunter was, and there’s still so much more I could say. She is a humorous, kind, and intelligent woman, and I am so very glad that I got to know her as my teacher and hero of my eighth grade year. It makes me sad to know that eighth graders of the future aren’t going to experience an amazing teacher like Ms. Hunter, but I am glad to know that she is now enjoying being retired, knowing she did her job so well, and left an impact on generations and generations of students. So, once again, when I think of great teachers of my past, a lot of names come to mind, but none of them are quite as wonderful as the teacher who granted me an understanding of math, saved my life, and shares my birthday – Ms. Julie Hunter.

Alivia Neater