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Kenai teacher tops statewide

Kaleidescope's Knudsen among six peninsula educators honored

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005


  MK Knudsen works with her first-grade students Wednesday at Kaleidoscope Charter School in Kenai. Knudsen was awarded BP Teacher of the Year for the Kenai Peninsula by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. Photo by M. Scott Moon

MK Knudsen works with her first-grade students Wednesday at Kaleidoscope Charter School in Kenai. Knudsen was awarded BP Teacher of the Year for the Kenai Peninsula by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The first year of Kaleidoscope School of the Arts and Sciences Charter School, housed within Sears Elementary in Kenai, has been a year of success for at least one teacher

First-grade teacher Mary Kay "MK" Knudsen was honored alongside six other Kenai Peninsula teachers who were recently recognized as state BP Teachers of Excellence.

But it was Knudsen who was chosen above all as BP's Teacher of the Year.

Knudsen and her family moved to Alaska from a dairy farm in Montana, and Kaleidoscope administrator Jacqu-ie Steckel said it's apparent Knudsen retained her farm work ethic and applies it to teaching. Steckel was an administrator for Sears when she hired Knudsen.

"I hired MK in 1990 — she was fresh as daisies," Steckel said. "I've never seen her in a bad moment or temper."

Steckel likely could have spent hours listing positive qualities about Knudsen — including words like "down to earth, strong character, approachable, comfortable, dependable, faithful, sterling integrity, giving and caring."

"She loves her students unconditionally and doesn't let outside problems get in the way of things. It all comes back to the heart, and that's something you can't train into someone," Steckel said.

Knudsen is quick to shine the light on her co-workers.

"We have an incredible staff that has open discussions. It's encouraging," she said.

Of herself, she said her success in teaching comes from keeping children in mind and working with whatever re-sources are available. Knudsen and her husband, Dave, a Mountain View Elementary third-grade teacher who was honored as a BP Teacher of Excellence in 2001, spent three years teaching in the Bush, a place where they learned to utilize resources.

"That was the best way to come to Alaska to see what it was all about," Knudsen said. "We learned about being flexible with people and dealing with social issues and survival."

When Steckel first hired Knudsen 15 years ago, she said she went with her gut feeling.

"I usually dig under rocks because a lot of people have baggage, but MK came up sterling shining every time," she said.

The school that uses the philosophy that students learn best through hands-on practice is fitting for Knudsen because she's practical.

Knudsen wrote the charter for the school.

"She's got common sense, and that's germane to her teaching," Steckel said.

Knudsen believes in creating a positive experience for both the student and their families.

"My children learn in an environment of connected, meaningful experiences," she said.

In collaboration with the music teacher, librarian and team teacher, she encourages inquiry-based discovery learning that is fun.

According to a press release, BP Alaska has supported outstanding teachers through the Teachers of Excellence program for the past 10 years. The company also recognized Jane Allen, kindergarten, Soldotna Elementary; Rose Ann Keating, fifth grade, Mountain View Elementary; Patricia Jay, AP social studies and government, Homer High School; Jon G. Lillevik, counselor, Kenai Central High School; Toni Parlow, language arts, Homer Middle School; and Sharon Thompson, special education and intensive needs, Nikiski Middle High School.

"Education has a powerful impact on human progress, and teachers are a critical link in transforming children into responsible, productive members of society," said Steve Marshall, president of BP Exploration. "It's important to recognize, value and celebrate the educator's role in making our communities better places to live, work and raise our families."

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