Alumna a ‘top new teacher,’ receives Kansas Horizon Award

Courtney Unruh '16, in her second year as a sixth-grade teacher at Hutchinson STEM Magnet School at Allen, Kansas, is the winner of the Kansas Horizon Award for top new teachers. The award is made by Kansas Commissioner of Education. (Courtesy photo)

 A 2016 alumna of Eastern Mennonite University has been named a winner of the Kansas Horizon Award for top new teachers by the Kansas Commissioner of Education.

Courtney Unruh is in her second year as a sixth-grade teacher at Hutchinson STEM Magnet School at Allen, where she “pairs high expectations with calmness, consistency and patience,” said Principal Bryan Cunningham. “In her early career, she is able to embrace the importance of putting students’ needs first and developing strong relationships with students and staff.”

The school serves a community in which many students experience a “lack of consistency in their lives,” and so Unruh tries every day to connect with students at a personal level.

“Simply showing up every day and caring about the well being of each student” has a “profound impact,” she said. “The positive relationships that are made with students are just as important as what is learned academically throughout the year. They are also the most rewarding part of the job.”

Unruh points to her experience in the EMU education program as integral to her successful career start.

“Something that I didn’t fully appreciate about EMU until I began teaching and started talking to other teachers was how much teaching experience I had before I even entered the teaching profession,” she said. “EMU is exceptional at placing students into classroom environments and allowing them a safe place to practice and begin to understand all areas of the teaching world – even before student teaching.”

Reflecting after teaching in order to revise lessons and better implement best practices was a key takeaway from her studies, she said. “I am constantly and naturally spending time after a lesson determining what worked well, what didn’t work well, who needs a reteach lesson, if I am reaching the needs of all my students, et cetera.”

According to the Hutchinson Public Schools announcement, to be eligible for a Horizon Award, teachers must have successfully completed their first year of teaching and have performed in such a way as to distinguish themselves as outstanding. As a recipient of the Kansas Horizon Award, Unruh is now a member of the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network (KEEN), a network of educators from around the state who have been formally recognized for exemplary performance. Members of KEEN have an opportunity to network with other outstanding educators and participate in a number of professional development programs throughout the year.