In a year that has demanded creativity and innovation from every teacher, five Catholic elementary school teachers in the Archdiocese of Louisville have been recognized with the Archbishop Kurtz Innovation Award.
The award, sponsored by the Dan Ulmer family and presented by the Catholic Education Foundation, recognizes “excellent and dedicated Catholic school teachers, with 2-5 years of experience, whose innovative and creative approach to learning inspires outstanding student achievement,” according to the CEF.
One constant has remained the same throughout a year rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, — teachers’ commitment to their students, said Dan Ulmer.
“Our Catholic schools teachers have been able to adapt, innovate and persevere under tough conditions. They have been nothing short of heroic and we love them for it,” said Dan Ulmer.
Typically the awards are presented at the annual back to school Mass educators attend at the start of the academic year. With restrictions in place due to COVID-19, the presentation of awards were delayed.
This year marks the first year the awards bear the name of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. The Ulmer family said in a statement it wished to rename in honor of the archbishop because of the “leadership and impact Archbishop Kurtz has had on local Catholic schools.”
Recipients of the innovation award each received a $2,500 monetary prize. Principals are invited to nominate one teacher from their school community for consideration for this award. Click here to watch a video presentation of the awards.
The 2021 recipients are:
Rachel Burba, St. Rita School
Burba teaches first-grade at St. Rita. In her nomination form, it said she has been “very committed to her profession, St. Rita School and its students.”
“Ms. Burba has proven her innovative teacher skills by creating active and supportive lessons without relying on a program or traditional textbook materials,” her nomination form said. “Through guided reading groups, literacy centers, formative assessment practices, and technological resources, she has made a great impact on student learning.”
Courtney Cecil, St. Gabriel School
Cecil teaches seventh- and eighth-grade social studies. In her nomination form, she is described as a “positive role model for students.”
“Mrs. Cecil masterfully weaves cross-curricular connections, including reading and writing, with her content,” the form said. “She easily has adapted instruction to accommodate remote learning students and utilizes technology frequently.”
Isabelle LaBarge, St. Aloysius School
LaBarge teaches music at St. Aloysius. Her nomination form described how she completely reimagined her music classes during the pandemic.
“She kept up to date with various aerosol studies from the University of Colorado on singing during the pandemic and refocused her overall approach on what the students could do, not on what the students would be missing,” it said.
Fred Tyler, St. Bernard School
Tyler is a fourth-grade social studies, language arts and math teacher. Tyler has been a leader of incorporating technology into the classroom, as well as offering support and guidance to colleagues who struggle with technology, his nomination form said.
“While he is known for his rigorous academic and behavioral standards, Mr. Tyler also has a reputation for bringing fun into our school. Song and dance are incorporated into learning, and his classes have been known to dance the Cha Cha Slide as they travel the hallway,” the form said.
Jessica Westerman, St. Athanasius School
Westerman teaches kindergarten. Her nomination form said she was the first in her school to learn the ins and outs of Zoom at the onset of remote learning last March and often held instructional Zoom meetings of her own to educate her fellow teachers.
“Jessica is constantly bringing new ideas to our school and the kindergarten classroom. Last year … Jessica was the first teacher in our building to fully implement flexible seating in the classroom. … Her kindergarten students loved the options and different types of seating,” her nomination said.