“If you were able to accomplish this in your first year of teaching, I can’t wait to see what you’ve accomplished after five,” Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Diane DeBacker said to Sarah Samuelson in a phone call congratulating her on being named a Horizon Award winner.
“If you were able to accomplish this in your first year of teaching, I can’t wait to see what you’ve accomplished after five,” Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Diane DeBacker said to Sarah Samuelson in a phone call congratulating her on being named a Horizon Award winner. The Horizon Award program recognizes teachers who have successfully completed their first year of teaching and have performed in such a way as to distinguish themselves as outstanding. You could almost say Samuelson was born to be a teacher. “My mother teaches first grade and my father teaches Spanish - my grandparents are even educators. I joke that if I hadn’t gone in to education, I would be disowned, but that’s not true,” she said. “I would spend the afternoons and weekends helping my parents in their classrooms. I grew up around education; I got to see what it takes and how hard teachers work every day, but I also got to see how rewarding it can be.” Samuelson graduated from Emporia State University with a Bachelors of Science in Education and concentrations in Biology, Chemistry and Middle School Science. She teaches eighth-grade science at Comanche Middle School. It was a science teacher who helped shape her career choice. “I spent four years in Panama while my parents were in the mission field. When we returned, I was in a new place doing different things with people I didn’t know; I was really overwhelmed and lonely,” she said. “My sixth-grade science teacher cared about me and I didn’t feel lonely anymore. I could have done anything for a career but when I chose education, I wanted to be just like her.” And according to Principal Marc Woofter, she is. “Students will exceed our expectations when they know we truly care about their education and them as individuals; Sarah takes this to heart in her classroom,” he said. “She spends a great deal of time building relationships with her students and attends their games and after school activities. She greets them at the door every day and is truly concerned about their well-being.” Samuelson said the best part of teaching is the students. “I call my students my kids, even though they argue that they are teenagers, because I feel like they are my own children at times. It is amazing to see them grow and learn and know that somehow you are a part of that. I get to see them grow a lot as people.” When Samuelson began teaching for USD 443, Sheila Howard was assigned as her mentor. Howard won the Horizon Award in 2004 and teaches social studies at Comanche. She’s the one who convinced Samuelson to apply. “I explained the program to Sarah and asked her if she would mind if I spoke to Mr. Woofter about a possible nomination,” Howard said. “Mr. Woofter agreed that Sarah would be a great candidate. She has a giant heart for people, but especially for children. She works really hard to try and make science interesting and fun. Last year her science students were the top winners at the district science fair which speaks volumes for a first-year teacher.” Woofter said Samuelson captures her students’ attention through many hands-on, practical experiments and is a master at keeping them engaged and interested. “I really like figuring out why things work and then explaining to people why they work,” Samuelson said. “I love teaching the human body to my students because I feel like it’s really important for them to have the correct information on how their body works or why it works the way it does.” The Horizon Award program is a regional competition with four regions corresponding to the state's U.S. Congressional districts. Four elementary and four secondary classroom teachers may be selected for the award from each region. Samuelson will attend the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network (KEEN) Conference in Topeka on Feb. 20-21. “Sometimes I wonder if I am being an effective teacher and if my kids are learning,” Samuelson said. “This award just reminds me to keep my chin up; I must be doing something right.”