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KU seniors honor high school educators with Wolfe Family Teaching Awards

Monday, May 04, 2020

LAWRENCE — Three outstanding high school teachers will be recognized with the 2020 Wolfe Family Teaching Award this graduation season.

“Great teachers impact people’s lives,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education. “This year’s winners of the Wolfe Teaching Award embody just that — incredible teachers who have had a significant impact on the lives of KU students.”

Nominations are submitted by KU seniors. Students from any major can nominate their former teachers, and the winners can be high school teachers from anywhere in the world. The 2020 award recipients:

  • Steven Appier, Shawnee Mission East High School (Prairie Village)
  • Neal Doolin, Blue Valley Southwest High School (Overland Park)
  • Anna Maki-Birchler, Staley High School (Kansas City, Missouri)

Appier was nominated by Eleanor Stewart-Jones, a senior in chemistry with a minor in French and francophone studies at KU. Stewart-Jones took Appier’s Advanced Placement (AP) chemistry class as a junior in high school. In her nomination, she wrote:

“I often felt like his class was impossible. However, Mr. Appier’s high expectations were matched by his level of dedication to his students and personal belief in our ability to succeed. He taught me that science is not a single class or field, but rather a tool to understand the natural world.”

Doolin was nominated by Faith Meier, a senior in pre-pharmacy with a minor in Spanish at KU. In addition to studying AP calculus with Doolin, Meier built a relationship with him outside of the classroom through activities like the e-sports club and Hoops for Hope program. In her nomination, she wrote:

“He can see when a student is struggling, whether academically or mentally, and he takes the initiative to reach out to them. The compassionate and supportive way that Mr. Doolin led that [calculus] class allowed us to slowly start to be OK with struggling, and I learned what it felt like to have to work very hard for an A [grade]. He made school fun, even when it was more difficult than it had ever been.”

Maki-Birchler was nominated by Alexis Jensen, a senior in anthropology and Spanish with a minor in French and francophone studies at KU. In her nomination, Jensen described Maki-Birchler’s ability to create a Spanish language learning environment in which every student felt encouraged, engaged and supported. She wrote:

Anna Maki-Birchler created a community within her classroom in which students felt safe to make mistakes and express their creativity. She may have taught us language, but she also taught us compassion, empathy, balance and self-acceptance.”

Recipients each receive a cash award of $3,000, and their respective high schools each receive $1,000. The award winners were selected from a large pool of outstanding nominees by a committee of faculty, administrators and students from KU’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and School of Education.

The award recipients are typically honored during Commencement weekend at the KU School of Education convocation ceremony, along with a dinner held in their honor. However, due to COVID-19, this year’s convocation ceremony has been canceled. Plans to honor the award winners at a future graduation ceremony are still being discussed. For more information on how the university is monitoring and responding to COVID-19, please visit coronavirus.ku.edu.

The Wolfe Family Teaching Award was created in 2006 with a $250,000 gift from R. Dean Wolfe, business administration ’66 and juris doctor ’69, and Cheryl Wolfe, Spanish education ’69, Clayton, Missouri, through the Wolfe Family Foundation. The award fund is managed by KU Endowment, the official fundraising and fund-management foundation for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

The KU School of Education is a nationally ranked school, preparing educators and health/sport/exercise professionals as leaders. The school is in the process of changing its name to the School of Education & Human Sciences, effective fall 2020. More information on the name change can be found here.

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