SC Grads Named Kansas Horizon Award Recipients

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Maeghan Bishop and Andrew Wesner are teachers with very different interests. Bishop enjoys theatre, speech and debate. Wesner likes football, track, and math. Despite the differences, though, their teaching careers have much in common. Both are now in their second year of teaching—at the high-school level. Both teach in Kansas. And both have been passionate about teaching young people since they were prospective teachers taking education classes in college. That last quality is the greatest reason both Maeghan Bishop and Andrew Wesner received surprise phone calls in early January from Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Alexa Posny, who informed them that, because of the exemplary performance they displayed as first-year teachers—which has continued this year—they are recipients of the Kansas Horizon Award.
Bishop and Wesner have another commonality between them, one that goes back to those teacher-education days: they are both 2007 graduates of Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas. Since only thirty-two Horizon Awards were given this year to both elementary and secondary-level teachers, this is an honor not only for Bishop and Wesner, but for Sterling College’s Teacher Education Program as well.
While they were students at Sterling College, Bishop and Wesner displayed the same kind of excellence that caught the attention of the supervisors who nominated them for the Horizon Award. Bishop, a communication and theatre arts major, was an active participant in the theater program, performing major roles in productions of Twelfth Night and Hello, Dolly. She showed the same kind of determination in her work as a teacher-education student. Dr. Gladys Ritterhouse, director of Sterling College’s Teacher Education Program, commented, “It is no surprise to me that Ms. Bishop has been selected as a Horizon Award recipient. She is a creative and inspiring young woman who showed outstanding talent as a teacher candidate. That same enthusiasm for learning and teaching has no doubt carried over to the students, colleagues, and administrators in her school.”
Andrew Wesner didn’t pick mathematics as his area of focus until his sophomore year of college, choosing it because he wanted to “help students with an important subject which many do not necessarily like and possibly struggle with.” By his junior year at Sterling, however, he had already caught the attention of the education professors, so much so that he was picked by them to be Sterling’s “Teacher of Promise” representative for that year. He was also impressive on the Sterling gridiron, not only garnering strong statistics but also the respect of his peers and coaches. Sterling head football coach Andy Lambert says, “Wesner was an exceptional player and leader on our team. He had a wonderful work ethic and was unbelievably tough. His best two qualities were his humility and his graciousness off the field. I am not surprised by his success. He is one of the best young men I have ever coached.”
Bishop and Wesner are now using the skills and life lessons they gained at Sterling College in their classrooms. Bishop, a speech teacher and assistant coach for debate and forensics at Washburn Rural High School, speaks highly of her years at Sterling. She says her professors, through their instruction and teaching examples, inspired her to have great goals for her own students. She wants her students “to learn to treat others with respect and open minds, to increase their levels of self-confidence, to build communication skills that will be marketable in any career, and to learn to think and listen with open yet critical minds.” These are lofty goals, but Bishop is already having some of what she calls “Aha!” moments, such as when a student “so shy and nervous that he becomes sick when he gives his first speech, tells me at the end of the semester that he loves giving speeches and feels 10 times more confident than he ever has before.” Bishop is also applying the spiritual growth she gained at Sterling. “I hope,” she says, “that my students see my faith, in some way, in how I conduct myself and interact with every one of them.”
Wesner also has high aspirations for his students—and himself. Teaching Algebra I, Algebra II, and geometry at Paola High School, he also coaches football and track and works with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program. He teaches because he sees it as an “opportunity to influence the young men and women of the next generation. Hopefully along the way I am able to encourage and motivate students to reach their fullest potential. Knowing that I can change a student's life motivates me to teach.”
In February both Bishop and Wesner attended the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network Conference in Topeka. For Wesner, this KEEN conference brought back memories. He attended the same conference as a “Teacher of Promise” in 2006. He went with Dr. Ritterhouse, his Sterling College professor. At that conference she introduced him to Donna Bagley, an education professor at Tabor College. Ms. Bagley, in turn, introduced him to Tabor’s “Teacher of Promise,” Sara Thiessen. It was an introduction that changed both their lives. Wesner and Thiessen married in June of 2007. In that same summer, the couple moved to Paola, where Andrew got a math-teaching position at the high school and Sara a fifth grade position at Sunflower Elementary School. Sara was present for the celebration that followed Andrew’s surprise phone call announcing his Horizon Award, and she was also able to join him at the KEEN conference in February. They were excited not only to attend together, but also to visit with the professors from both their colleges.
“Teacher of Promise” is the term the state of Kansas uses for its promising prospective teachers. That title still applies to Maeghan Bishop and Andrew Wesner. Already, as novice teachers, they have been acknowledged for their passion and their competence, but they both recognize they have so much growth still to achieve. Bishop says, “I want to keep improving upon my teaching strategies, making them more and more creative and engaging to my students.” Wesner comments, “Going to the KEEN Conference was a great honor but also very humbling, knowing that I have such a long way to go as an educator.” These Horizon Award winners take their jobs seriously, and their students, both present and the future, benefit from that.