Spanish Immersion and alternatives programs yield SLP teachers of the year

Spring Lake Park District 16 has two new teachers of the year.

Laura Peno-Kennedy, left, was recently named Spring Lake Park District 16 Teacher of the Year at the elementary level, while Sada Ganske was named Teacher of the Year at the secondary level. Photo submitted

Laura Peno-Kennedy, left, was recently named Spring Lake Park District 16 Teacher of the Year at the elementary level, while Sada Ganske was named Teacher of the Year at the secondary level. Photo submitted

Laura Pena-Kennedy, a kindergarten teacher in Westwood Intermediate School’s Spanish Immersion Program was named 2012 Teacher of the Year at the elementary level, while Sada Ganske, a teacher at the Learning Alternatives Community School, was named Teacher of the Year at the secondary level.

They received the honors at a May 10 reception at Acapulco Restaurante Mexicano in Blaine. The event was sponsored by Spring Lake Park Teachers United, the teacher’s union representing the district’s teachers.

Laura Pena-Kennedy, Elementary Teacher of the Year

This was Pena-Kennedy’s first year teaching in District 16. Although she was nominated for the award, she was sure she wasn’t going to get it because of her short tenure in the district. She was shocked when they called her name, she said.

But Pena-Kennedy is no newcomer to teaching. For seven years she taught K-12 Spanish and ELL classes at various districts and charter schools throughout the state. This is her first year teaching in a Spanish Immersion program.

“It’s huge because it’s something we strive for and, yet, at the same time, it’s very humbling for me,” Pena-Kennedy said in a phone interview. “I am honored to represent and serve the district through this award as well as continuing to serve the students and their families.”

Pena-Kennedy was nominated for the honor by a parent of one of her students.

She enjoys teaching her class of 23 kindergartners in the full-day Spanish Immersion program.

“It finally feels like I’m home, career-wise,” she said.

Pena-Kennedy creatively meets the needs of each of her students, always exploring new technologies, websites and technology applications, said Spanish Immersion Program Director Tom Larson.

“She knows her students very well and sees the positive in each one of them using the students’ talents to help each individual child learn,” he said. “As a part of the kindergarten team, Laura brings her background in language acquisition knowledge and how kids learn another language.”

Pena-Kennedy holds a bachelor of science degree in Spanish and a bachelor of arts degree in linguistics from St. Cloud State University.

She feels “lucky to work with the caliber of people that I work with on a daily basis,” Pena-Kennedy said.

Sada Ganske, Secondary Teacher of the Year

Sada Ganske was a three-time nominee for teacher of the year by a dean at school, fellow teacher and student.

Ganske has taught for 11 years, her first year in La Crescent and the last 10 years at District 16’s Learning Alternatives Community School. She teaches science to high schoolers and to students in grades five through eight in the school’s Lighthouse Program for insatiable learners.

“It’s an honor and it’s so humbling at the same time because so many people are doing incredible work every day,” Ganske said about receiving the award.

For Ganske the best part of teaching is learning alongside her students every day. “They have a fresh perspective on the world… . Not only are they learning but they’re teaching us a lot at the same time,” Ganske said.

Ganske gets kids interactively involved in their learning in multiple ways. She coaches other teachers, attends conferences and involves students in community outreach. She is technology savvy and incorporates it into her teaching. Last year, she spearheaded the effort resulting in LACS being named Minnesota learning alternatives school of the year, according to Bill Sommers, LACS director.

“She’s just a dynamite teacher. She’s not only engaging but firm,” Sommers said.

Ganske earned a bachelor’s degree in science from the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, and a master’s degree in science instruction from St. Mary’s College of Winona.

Ganske figured the classroom would be a good vehicle to continue her passion for asking science questions and seeking answers. Although her parents aren’t teachers, they strongly supported education. Many of her family members were teachers, including her grandparents.

In receiving the award, Ganske acknowledged not only the teachers, but the bus drivers, lunch people who serves students hot meals and other employees who create a successful learning environment.

The SLP Teacher of the Year is nominated by a parent, student or community member. The nominee must inspire students, play an active role in school community and have the respect of students, parents and colleagues.

Last year’s teachers of the year were Barb Saunders, a parent/family educator in the district’s Early Childhood Family Education program on the elementary level, and Kris McCarthy, a seventh-grade American studies teacher at Westwood Middle School, on the secondary level.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]

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