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Teachers earn national honours

June 14, 2016 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Nicole Blais receives her award from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Two Alberta teachers are among 10 recipients of the annual Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence.

Scott Onuczko of Spruce Grove Composite High School and Nicole Blais of St. Mary’s Elementary School in Lloydminster both received certificates of excellence, the award program’s highest honour.

“It is surreal, kind of hard to believe,” Onuczko said of winning the award.

Blais echoed the sentiment.

“It was kind of an overwhelming feeling to actually hear that I’d won, kind of unbelievable,” she said. “It’s an honour that I’ll probably never get in my career again.”

Each winner received a three-day trip to Ottawa that included an awards ceremony attended by the prime minister and a best practices session with the other award recipients.

“That was such an incredible experience ... just to see the similarities and making those contacts with these people,” Onuczko said.

The awards are intended to honour outstanding and innovative teachers who instil a love of learning in their students and who use information and communications technology to better equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in the 21st century.

As the head of the communication technology program at his school, Onuczko has developed 44 courses in a variety of areas: photography, screen printing, web design, graphic design, advertising and audio-video.

He said he encourages students to pursue projects that are meaningful to them and acts as a guide as they solve their own problems and help each other.

“The skills that I’m trying to get the kids to develop are essentially learning how to learn,” he said. “It’s not so much the final project that you come out with and how shiny it is.”

Communication technology teacher Scott Onuczko of Spruce Grove Composite High School is a recipient of a Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence.

Blais, a Grade 6 teacher, got the nod for “marrying her technological savvy with a positive attitude, quick wit and genuine care for others,” states the award summary. (While she teaches at a school located in Alberta, Blais is a member of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation due to her employment with the Lloydminster Catholic School Division.)

Among her listed achievements are the spearheading (along with a colleague) of a program called Our Village Uganda, whereby students in Lloydminster and Uganda use Skype to hold joint prayer services and discuss a wide range of topics, such as science, math, English, politics and recent trends. The Canadian students also raise funds to help the village become sustainable. This program has previously received an award from the Canadian Education Association for its innovative use of technology.

The strong humanitarian bent that permeates her work as a teacher is something that Blais traces back to her childhood.

“Helping others is something I learned from my parents. They were always helping people within our small community,” she said.

“To give my students the sense of ­accomplishment and pride within themselves by helping others makes me proud.” ❚

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