Salute Our Heroes: TPS educators honored with Horizon Award

13 NEWS at 10 p.m.
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 7:34 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Austen Witte never thought crayons and tiny tots would be part of his working life.

“Prior to [teaching] I was a web designer and I really wanted to pursue a career where I could make a difference in the lives of kids and it lead me to education,” he said.

His career shift to teaching kindergarten at State Street Elementary School timed out with the world’s shift to navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My first year we didn’t know what to expect we had this whole idea of how are we going to protect these kids and keep them safe during a pandemic and we grew and adapted as the year progressed and we still are,” he said.

Topeka High School math teacher Amanda Schafers saw a similar start to her career.

“The challenge that it created was trying to build those relationships with your students and it’s harder to do on text, IM or the chat function on Zoom,” she said.

When she learned students had trouble accessing her teaching outside school hours during remote learning, she rethought her style to better help students.

“I completely flipped over the break and made it so we were asynchronous for the second half of the schoolyear,” she explained.

“Instead of homework being independent practice I made it so that way homework was a lecture with no more than 15-minute lecture videos for students and classtime became independent work time with guided help.”

Now in their second year of teaching, Schaefers and Witte were both recognized with the state’s Horizon Award -- and neither plan to slow down.

“I think it’s very important to gauge students’ needs and adjust accordingly, because it might be easier for me to lecture but it might not be easier for my kids so adjusting to what they need is what’ll help them the most,” Schaefers said.

“It just goes to show that educators are needed and are important with what they’re doing and I think that when you see a different way of doing things to meet the needs of kids it does make a difference.”

All Horizon Award winners are listed below.


Region 1

  • Katie Buhler, West Elementary School, Wamego Unified School District 320.
  • McKenzie Heft, Council Grove Elementary School, Morris County USD 417.
  • Lindsey Kepka, Hutchinson Virtual School, Hutchinson USD 308.
  • Nicole Menard, Buhler High School, Buhler USD 313.
  • Christine Pianalto, McPherson High School, McPherson USD 418.
  • Katelyn Stoss, Plum Creek Elementary School, Buhler USD 313.
  • Jazzmyn Tolbert, Graber Elementary School, Hutchinson USD 308.
  • Thomas Tryon, Washington County High School, Washington County USD 108.

Region 2

  • Sonny Bourne, Paola Middle School, Paola USD 368.
  • Julia Gloss, Shawnee Heights Middle School, Shawnee Heights USD 450.
  • Taylor Holmer, Northern Hills Elementary School, Seaman USD 345.
  • Emma Joens, Berryton Elementary School, Shawnee Heights USD 450.
  • Amanda Schafers, Topeka High School, Topeka USD 501.
  • Ivan Torres, Washburn Rural High School, Auburn-Washburn USD 437.
  • Mellisa Wilson, Central Heights Elementary School, Central Heights USD 288.
  • Austen Witte, State Street Elementary School, Topeka USD 501.

Region 3

  • Rose Bentley, Rockville Elementary School, Louisburg USD 416.
  • Alec Cowley, Piper Creek Elementary School, Piper USD 203.
  • Alyson Daniels, Spring Hill Early Learning Academy, Spring Hill USD 230.
  • Perlita Dominguez, Frank Rushton Elementary School, Kansas City USD 500.
  • Bailey Eisenbraun, Turner Middle School, Turner USD 202.
  • Zachary Johnson, Blue Valley West High School, Blue Valley USD 229.
  • Anna Meissbach, Monticello Trails Middle School, De Soto USD 232.
  • Lauren Sage, F.L. Schlagle High School, Kansas City USD 500.

Region 4

  • Jordan Camfield, Maize South Elementary School, Maize USD 266.
  • Kassie Campidilli, Goddard High School, Goddard USD 265.
  • Emily Crawford, Northridge Elementary School, Newton USD 373.
  • Lindsay Hincher, Hesston Middle School, Hesston USD 460.
  • Madison Hines Schmoll, Andover Middle School, Andover USD 385.
  • Alexandra McDowell, McLean Science and Technology Magnet Elementary School, Wichita USD 259.
  • Kynnedy Myers, Ewalt Elementary School, Augusta USD 402.
  • Erin Williams, Smoky Valley High School, Smoky Valley USD 400.

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