Paul Banks educator receives a runner-up award for Alaska Teacher of the Year

Jennifer Reinhart teachers kindergarten and first grade

Paul Banks K-12 teacher Jennifer Reinhart received a runner-up award for Alaska Teacher of the Year. She was chosen out of four state elementary school educators nominated for the award.

Reinhart said she was surprised to learn about the nomination.

“I knew nothing about it until I got an email telling me that someone had nominated me. It was news to me,” she said. “I had to decide whether or not I wanted to respond to the nomination because there are four tiers of material that need to be submitted.”

These included submission of a resume and essay, letters of recommendation, a video of instruction time and a presentation explaining why she chose that lesson, and an interview with the awards committee at the state Department of Early Education, she said.

Even after Reinhart had received 14 letters of recommendation, she still didn’t know who had nominated her. But, she decided go ahead with the application process.

Reinhart has been teaching at Paul Banks Elementary School for 16 years. “I have been teaching kindergarten or first grade that entire time and I feel like I’ve been really lucky for that consistency,” she said.

Over that time frame, the biggest changes she’s experienced have been in curriculum material. “I’ve also seen four different administrators and everyone has their own ‘flavor’ or intentions that they bring to the table in that realm,” she said.

One thing she’s seen, especially at Paul Banks but at Homer schools in general, is more outdoor, experiential learning.

”We’re really honing in on the science of teaching children, in general, but a big push now is the science of reading and teaching children how to read. Although human brains learn to read at different speeds, they all do it the same way. All children can learn to read efficiently, effectively and accurately,” she said.

When Reinhart first started teaching, teachers had certain strategies for managing issues like dyslexia but there wasn’t a definitive tool to address some of the issues witnessed, she said.

“For me, new data on the science of reading has been one of the most exciting things I’ve been able to tap into in the last few years,” she said. “As technology advances and we can see more images of the brain as these processes are happening, things in the past that we thought were just disorder symptoms but really there is a lot of plasticity there to make reading pathways stronger.”

Reinhart is also responsible for math, sciences and art but the elementary school has a physical education and music specialist, as well.

“At Paul Banks we have an outdoor classroom but we are also right on the Calvin and Coyle trail system. We are blessed to have so many mini habitats and ecosystems within walking distance of the school. We try to get the kids outside daily,” she said.

She said she was also proud of the school’s dedication to meeting all students’ needs.

“I think it’s pretty incredible at Paul Banks that we have a solid method for incorporating and including all of the children into our school, especially the children with special needs because we have a very strong intensive needs program. Their peers are really accepting of them here and it’s a great start for them. The school has had a culture of social support for a long time,” Reinhart said.

In addition to runner-up for the Alaska Teacher of the Year Award, Reinhart has also been nominated for the 2023 National Life Changer of the Year award by Hollins Emili, Alaska Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant (CLSD) Specialist. Results for the National award will be presented in 2024.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jennifer Reinhart’s last name.