The special education teacher at Chief Ivan Blunka School in New Stuyahok is a finalist for the 2020 Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s teacher of the year award.
Ben Griese just began his 11th year at the school. He was more thankful than surprised to find out he was a finalist for the award.
“One thing that I’ve learned to bring to the forefront is awareness towards special education topics,” Griese said. “I feel like this will be a great start to that.”
Last year, Griese partnered with an elementary school teacher to create a disability awareness week. He said students engaged in activities to learn about different disabilities.
“During that week, the kids were reaching out to the students with special needs,” Griese said. “They were including them more. Ever since then, we’ve had this improvement in our general culture in the way that it’s like the acceptance of kids with disabilities. But it became ever more prevalent last year, whenever we were able to break down the walls and shine a light on things that they may not understand.”
Griese also helped a non-verbal student, Malcom, write a graduation speech using an augmentative alternative communication device. He used symbols and a speech output app on an iPad at last year’s ceremony.
“Kids remember people are different,” said Malcom as part of his speech. “Say hi, it makes me feel excited. Next year I will watch TV. I joke, next year I go to school.”
Malcom finished with a loving thank you to his family. Griese was kneeling by his side with a microphone in hand.
The school’s administration was elated by Griese’s nomination. Assistant Principal Meghan Redmond who won the National Assistant Principal of the Year award in 2019, said he is more than deserving of his nomination.
“We were all beyond excited for him. Like, excited comes nowhere near how we felt,” Redmond said. “Ben goes above and beyond every single second, of every single day. Not only for the students he works with, but every single student and person he interacts with.”
Griese heads to Anchorage on Sept. 23 for interviews with the Department of Education. Other nominees include history teacher Amy Galloway at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, and special education resource teacher Pamela Garcia at Auke Bay Elementary School in Juneau. The winner will be announced Sept. 27.
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