Lincoln Northeast teacher earns McAuliffe Prize
Each nominee for the Christa McAuliffe Prize for Courage and Excellence in Education is asked to submit their "philosophy of education." Cheyenne Janssen opened hers with a quote that motivates her every day to develop students into world changers: "Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world."
Those words from Nelson Mandela have special meaning for Janssen, a social studies teacher at Lincoln Northeast High School, who will be recognized March 12 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's East Union, as this year's McAuliffe Prize recipient.
"I went into teaching to change the lives of kids," Janssen said. "I went into teaching to create world changers. I went into the teaching profession because I am passionate about people, especially young people, and the world in which we live."
There's ample evidence that Janssen's mission has been successful. Northeast parent Shauna Ideen credits Janssen for helping her son graduate.
"Mrs. Janssen knows just how to approach each student with their independent needs and strives to go the extra mile to achieve it," Ideen said. "She helps the students to understand the material, as well as encouraging them to learn in their own way."
Adrienne Schlake is a teaching colleague at Northeast who said she admires Janssen's impact on students.
"I cannot think of another educator I have met that courageously pursues what is right, just and fair for all of their students like Cheyenne," Schlake said. "One of the phrases I always hear her tell students is, 'I've got your back.'"
Janssen said she wants her students to do well academically and to be lifelong learners, but mostly she wants them to use their knowledge to change the world.
"It's my passion to create students that understand that life is much bigger than them, and who take an active role to stand for what they believe, to take the knowledge learned in geography, civics, U.S. history and government and apply it – to create students who become adults who exemplify courage and excellence," she said.
"Her classes are continually the best prepared, most enthusiastic and articulate," said Sen. Adam Morfeld, who leads Nebraskans for Civic Reform and its Capitol Experience Program for high school students. "Materials she created for the program were so superb that we now use them with all the classes from across the state that participate in the program. Her dedication to ensuring that her students develop the necessary critical thinking, civil discourse and media literacy skills to become civic leaders and engaged citizens will have a positive impact on generations to come."
At Lincoln Southwest, fellow social studies teacher Lisa Bales is inspired and humbled by Janssen's commitment to her students.
"She invests a great deal of time into helping students understand their role in the community, as well as the importance of actively participating in their community," Bales said. "Cheyenne takes students as they are and helps them get to where they want to be."
An example of how Janssen gets her students engaged in the community comes from Chapter 25, a nonprofit that helps feed the hungry locally, nationally and internationally.
Executive director Becky Snedeker spoke to one of Janssen's classes about Chapter 25, but it didn't end with a PowerPoint. With Janssen's support and guidance, the students raised funds to package and distribute food globally.
"For Cheyenne, it was not enough for her students to simply learn – she wanted them to react," Snedeker said. "A great teacher enthusiastically takes on the challenge to expand that knowledge to a classroom far bigger than four walls."
Janssen has taught at Northeast High School since 2004. She received a master's degree and certification in secondary education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that same year and has a bachelor's degree in criminology from the University of New Mexico.
The McAuliffe Prize was started by Gregg Wright as a memorial for Christa McAuliffe, the teacher/astronaut who lost her life in the Challenger space shuttle accident in January 1986.
"Christa McAuliffe provided a visible demonstration of both courage and excellence in education, qualities that are found in many Nebraska teachers to the benefit of all our children," Wright said.
The prize is awarded annually by Nebraska's College of Education and Human Sciences to a Nebraska teacher. Janssen will receive a $1,000 stipend and a plaque at the March 12 banquet. Northeast High School will receive a $500 award to help support school activities.