Thank You Teacher

Recognition Ceremony

Five LPS educators honored during 2024 Thank You Teacher Celebration

Five educators were selected among 200 written nominations in the annual Lincoln Public Schools Thank You Teacher event, which asks students and families throughout the community to write about how a favorite teacher impacted their lives. The winning educators and students were honored this year at the annual Lincoln Public Schools Thank You Teacher breakfast ceremony, held Tuesday at the Governor’s Mansion as part of Nebraska Teacher Recognition activities.

Jill St. James from co-sponsor Alpha Media, KFOR and KFRX emceed the event. LPS Superintendent Paul Gausman, Lincoln Board of Education President Lanny Boswell and Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen addressed those in attendance. Each emphasized the vital role that teachers play in the lives of students.

“Indeed, teachers provide so much for our students,” said Gausman. “You provide inspiration, motivation, and ultimately – dependability. In honor of this teacher recognition event I thank you for the countless hours you dedicate to our children. I thank you for your relentless commitment to our students. May today be a reminder of how appreciated and adored you are.”

Boswell added, “We are thankful every day for the educators who dedicate their time and talents to inspiring future generations. There is not one person here in this room today who hasn’t been affected by a teacher. Teaching is one profession that greatly impacts every aspect of our daily lives. It is the profession that makes all other professions possible.”

Letter writers read their nominations aloud, followed by remarks from the winning educators. As usual with this event, there were tears and sniffles from most of the honorees and many in the audience.

This year’s winning educators and the people who nominated them were:

Preschool – Grade 2: Emily Mujica, kindergarten teacher at Arnold Elementary School; nominated by parent Paige Leising.

Grades 3-5: Kris Jenkins, third grade teacher at Saratoga Elementary School; nominated by Remy and Gina Matthiessen.

Middle School: Thomas Arellano, PE/Health teacher at Schoo Middle School; nominated by Schoo student Bella Lester.

High School: Emily Geldmeier, journalism teacher at East High School; nominated by East senior Hope Shortridge.

Retired: Kim Ridder, retired from Scott Middle School; nominated by Scott eighth grade student Payton Utemark.

The annual event is sponsored by Lincoln Public Schools, the Lincoln Education Association, the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools and Alpha Media – KFOR/KFRX.

Photos from the 2024 Thank You Teacher Celebration



Jill St. James


Paul Gausman
Lincoln Public Schools

Lanny Boswell
Lincoln Board of Education

Jim Pillen
Governor of Nebraska

Awards Presentation

Paul Gausman and Jill St. James

Letters and Comments

Nominators and Teachers

Closing Remarks

Jill St. James

Photo opportunities will take place after the program.

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

The Letters

Emily Mujica

Arnold Elementary

Nominated By
Pagie Leising

We would like to nominate Emily Mujica for Thank You Teacher. She is a kindergarten teacher at Arnold Elementary.

Let me begin by describing my Christmas shopping list this year (I know, riveting). Items to be purchased included: Lanyard, paper clips, whiteboard, Expo markers, Post-it notes, visual schedule, other miscellaneous items from Office Depot. These items are essential for a classroom and very helpful for teachers. The recipient of these very boring items you ask? My two daughters Hayden and Emma. My children asked for office supplies for Christmas. Every waking moment spent in our house is spent playing teacher. The moment they pop out of bed in the morning at the inopportune time of 5:45am to the moment they go to bed is spent teaching their stuffed animals. I know what you’re thinking, “Wow. Over-exaggerate much?” It’s here where I assure you, dear reader, the frequency and obligation to do math mountains and equations before my morning coffee, says otherwise.

The exact moment they discovered the fun of playing teacher was the first day Emily Mujica came into their lives. Both girls were fortunate to have Ms. Mujica as their Kindergarten teacher. Our nerves were immediately put to ease with her welcoming and outgoing personality at kindergarten orientation.

As the year goes on, I am increasingly amazed at her talent to engage and shape these little minds. Nothing puts our hearts more at ease knowing Hayden gets to sit in her class to learn, feel safe and most importantly, feel loved. I’m confident that each child that walks in her classroom feels the same. I asked Hayden to share her favorite part of being with Ms. Mujica. “She is the funnest and makes us the best surprises. She always gives me Band-Aids when I need them.”

In addition to her inviting classroom and endless supply of Band-Aids, Ms. Mujica is a prime example of a life-long learner. She spends her days educating and the rest of her time in graduate school. Her passion for learning is apparent and truly inspires her students. I once asked her why in the world she was responding to my email late at night. Her response… “oh, I was just working on an assignment and catching up.” She’s a true encapsulation of who teachers are; people that give their entire lives to our kids despite the world not understanding the behind-the-scenes things they do, day in and day out.

The Leising family is so grateful for Emily Mujica (and all the teachers) who nurture, teach and empower our kids every day. Ms. Mujica, thanks for everything you have done for us and your students. We appreciate you and I’ll send another pack of Band-Aids with Hayden on Monday.

Kristine Jenkins

Saratoga Elementary School

Nominated By
Remy and Gina Matthiessen

What makes an outstanding teacher? Someone who goes above and beyond for their students to ensure they have a learning experience they will never forget. Someone who takes time out of their personal lives to show that they truly care. Someone who is involved and invested in each child and makes them feel special and important. That someone is Mrs. Kris Jenkins, 3rd Grade Teacher at Saratoga Elementary.

This year Mrs. Jenkins worked hard to have a book about animals that she put together with her class published! Each student was able to draw a picture and write a piece about their animal. The class was even featured on the local news! Remy was so proud and excited to talk about the book and her part in it. This was such a unique and amazing opportunity for these kids, and it would not have been possible if not for Mrs. Jenkins putting in the extra time and care that this required. We purchased a copy of the book once it was published, and it is something we will hold onto and cherish forever.

It doesn’t stop there. Mrs. Jenkins is always working hard on some sort of special project with the kids, relating to whatever topic they are focusing on in class. She works hard to come up with fun ideas, plan and gather materials for each project.

From building shields while learning about the Roman Empire to hatching eggs in the classroom – Remy is never bored and always has something exciting to report about what is going on at school! Mrs. Jenkins makes sure to include parents in all these activities and keep them updated with emails, class photos and more! I have never experienced such thorough and consistent communication from a teacher before. I love knowing what is going on in my child’s school life and being kept in the loop, outside of just the regular updates and parent teacher conferences. Just another one of those little extra things she does to show she really cares.

Mrs. Jenkins even goes as far as showing interest in her students’ activities outside of school. She is always keeping us posted on fun things going on in the community that we could attend as a family. She also encourages sports and any kind of personal growth. Remy is a wrestler and works very hard. Mrs. Jenkins supports her by checking in with her and even coming to tournaments and cheering her on! It means so much to Remy that she takes an active interest in what’s going on in her life and what’s important to her.

I have never seen Remy light up when talking about a teacher like she does when she talks about Mrs. Jenkins and all she does for her class. She is just an awesome teacher! We wholeheartedly believe she deserves this honor and recognition for outstanding educator.

Thomas Arellano

Schoo Middle School

Nominated By
Bella Lester

Mr. Arellano is my P.E. and health teacher. Everyday his class, whether it’s health class or P.E, gives me something to look forward to. I always learn so much and have lots of fun in his class.

There are many teachers who make learning fun and teach you lots in the time they are in your class, but there aren’t a lot like Mr. A. What makes Mr. A different is that he takes his time to get to know each individual student as a person. He doesn’t just think of us as another class he’s teaching. He realizes that we are all individual people who have different perspectives on things, opinions, and needs. He always tries to connect with every student in some way, so that they know he is someone they can talk to and trust. He doesn’t just teach us the curriculum that they give him, he also teaches us things like the importance of honesty and to always think about the decisions we make. He always holds us accountable for our actions and tells us that he would rather us tell the truth even if he won’t like it than have us lie to him.

Mr. Arellano also gives all of his students the support they need and makes sure that they know they can always talk to him. My grandpa died this school year and Mr. A was very good at taking into consideration what happened and realizing that I might not be at my best.

He was good at trying to help me through it. I talked to him a lot about my grandpa because I think everyone should know about what a great person he was and Mr. A always listened. One of the things we talked about a lot was music because Mr. A and I have mostly the same taste. My grandpa used to write country music so Mr. A even took the time to listen to some of his songs. One of the artists we talk about all the time is Zach Bryan, so on Christmas when I got tickets to his concert the first thing I thought about was getting to tell Mr. A that I was going. He was very happy for me when I told him.

I know I’m not the only student who feels this way about Mr. Arellano. One of the days from our school spirit week was dress like a trusted adult day and there was a big group of students including me who all made a plan with Mr. A to dress like him and we took a big group photo with all of us. Mr Arellano is a beyond amazing teacher who deserves to be recognized and I know many people who would say the same.

Emily Geldmeier

East High School

Nominated By
Hope Shortridge

To whomever reads this, I feel a proper introduction is due. My name is Hope Shortridge, and I am a senior at Lincoln East High School. It is with great pleasure that I would like to nominate my all-time favorite teacher and journalism advisor, Mrs. Emily Geldmeier, for this prestigious award. Geldmeier has only been a part of my life for a few short years, but the connection we share feels like it’s been a lifetime. We met going into my sophomore year, when I was worried for many reasons. It would truly be my first year of high school, considering all of the protocols in place my freshman year due to Covid. But I was also excited, because I had been accepted into the Oracle (advised by Geldmeier), East’s newspaper.

From the very first day of school, it was evident how well our personalities would match. Her infectious, bubbly smile (that sadly we could only see for a few short days a week due to covid) was so inviting, and you could tell she really cared about The Oracle and all of her students. One of our weekly rituals, implemented by Geldmeier herself, was how we go around the room sharing our Rose and Thorns of our past weekend. (A process where we tell Geldmeier and the class one good thing that happened over the weekend and one not so good thing.) It is a simple factor, but I truly look forward to it every week, and I know many of my fellow staff members do as well. It has truly brought us all closer as a staff and as individuals.
We all truly look forward to doing it every Monday, and it even makes the day seem a little brighter.

She also would put out a “weekly check in” form where she would ask about similar aspects of our weekend, and offered to follow up with us if we chose. It’s little acts like these that make a teacher so special. She is the kind of teacher that leaves a lasting impact on everyone who has the pleasure of meeting her. This has stayed consistent and true over my three years with her, and it is really comforting to know how much she truly cares about all of us. She is always going the extra mile to support us in times of celebration, need, or sorrow.

For parents, when you think about the ideal person to nurture and lead your child, while also helping to develop them with proper life and communication skills, through the wild ride that is high school, Geldmeier is what you can only dream of. Time and time again she proves how she is like no other, from remembering what we have said during rose and thorn and following up the next week, keeping up with our athletes and their success at sporting events, and even when others have a small victory. She is our biggest fan, and I am her biggest fan if you couldn’t tell! At the same time, she holds us accountable, and helps us put a plan in place if we have missed a deadline, or not completed our best effort on an assignment. Having an already strong relationship with someone, and then being able to trust their constructive criticism really makes you better as a person and student.

Through the skills I have gained during my time with Geldmeier and on the Oracle, I have been able to turn one of my favorite hobbies into the beginning parts of an exciting career. I am blessed to say that Mrs. Geldmeier has been there every step of the way, instilling confidence and guiding me so I can have the utmost success. All of the time and effort she puts in is evident, and it shows how amazing of a teacher she is, and I am forever grateful that she is in my life. She truly puts her all into The Oracle and all of the classes she teaches, and is constantly thinking about how she can be better. Our relationship has only flourished over these 3 years of knowing each other, and I am grateful to call her a part of my family.

She has taught me so much about how to be a better journalist, leader, person, and to always “assume the best” about someone. She has changed my life for the better, and I am going to miss her insanely next year in college. I truly believe there is no one more deserving of this recognition, and I can’t wait to (hopefully) celebrate this with her.

As Dr. Sudhir S. Balerao famously said, “A good education can change anyone. A good teacher can change everything.”

Kim Ridder

Retired, Scott High School

Nominated By
Payton Utemark

Mrs. Ridder has known me since the beginning of my life and even one of the first to hold me as a newborn. I’ve grown up with her by my side and could never ask for a better inspiration. I was so lucky to have her as my teacher. Her dream as a teacher was to change her students so her students could change the world. Any student that has come out of her class is not like any other students. Her students are kinder, more outgoing, happier, mindful, and hard working. They understand what is best for them so that they can carry on Mrs.Ridder’s legacy at Scott and pursue her dream every second they get.

Moving through middle school I’ve heard teachers say how much they miss her bright attitude and the inspiration she brought to the school and how much they aspire to be like her. Mrs. Ridder has brought me to some of the brightest points in my life and made me the happiest person alive. She has pushed me to try new things, to be different, and be successful. She has gotten me to try things I would have never picked up but now can’t put down. She has pushed me to take part in theater, causing me to build the best friendships.

She has pushed me to participate in show choir and just recently try out for cheer in high school. I could never let her down because of how much good she has put into our world, and I know now she is the one who deserves more than the world could give her. She has driven hours to come and watch an 8 minute show that I was in but also came to see some of her past students. She lives in Ashland and drove 52 minutes to school every morning waking up at 3am to look presentable and get the day started off right.

She brought fun to her classroom which was something no other teacher had done. She held class auctions for chances to win prizes that were worth more than just something from the dollar store. Who knows how much money she spent on her kids over the years but she does not care as she gave her kids things sometimes their families couldn’t afford and made them so happy in their time having her.

No kid has ever been happy to go to a class but her class was different. Kids would beg and bribe to get put into her class. At the end of the day there would be a line going out her door to give her a hug before kids left.

Without her I don’t know where I would be in life. She’s made me someone who will accept everyone for who they are and not to change myself for someone else. To ignore kids who are mean and be a role model for them to be kinder. To take education seriously even though I am in middle school so that I can be successful now as well as later.
And that taking your education seriously now in the long run will be best. To make life fun and do things you enjoy. And to try new things because what do you have to lose? But most importantly family always comes first.

I don’t see her as much anymore but she will always be in my heart. She deserves this award so much and ask any of her students they will say the same thing! As she was packing up her class to retire she let me pick out one thing to take home. I picked a sign that had her favorite quote on it and is now hanging in my room! “just wait until you see what is possible when you shine your little light on the world!” She is my life and I don’t know what I will do without her!