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Education alum Kristie Kay wins Arizona lesson plan contest.

In her first year of teaching at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff, Kristie Kay decided that her sixth-graders needed more than textbooks and lectures to fully appreciate Native American culture. In response, Kay designed a more hands-on lesson plan, complete with artifacts, cultural documents, and videos.

“I wanted to bring in artifacts of Native American culture,” Kay explains. “I knew this was going to be an interesting subject for them because so many of them are Native American themselves or their friends are Native American.”

This new curriculum encouraged her students to become more engaged in learning about Arizona’s indigenous people, and in doing so, was the award-winning entry in the Imagine Arizona contest. Judges were so impressed with Kay's approach that they are making it available for use by teachers across the state. As part of the Arizona Centennial celebration, the Imagine Arizona prize awarded to Kay demonstrated her ability to make a difference in the lives of her students. 

Opportunity for growth

Kay’s success was made possible, in part, through the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, which allows students from 14 states in the Western United States to attend Northern Arizona University at a reduced tuition rate. Originally from Hilo, Hawaii, Kay explains that while traveling from a tropical environment to a mountain town in the pines was something of a culture shock initially, she soon fell in love with Flagstaff and the university.

“I like the small town feel that Flagstaff has,” Kay says. “You see everyone you know all the time, and you can make strong connections with people here.”

Kay’s own experiences adapting to and learning about Arizona’s rich indigenous heritage compelled her to create her lesson plan. In her own description sent to the contest, Kay explains the necessity of deeper student engagement with the history and culture of Arizona and its people.

“With Arizona having the second largest Native American population in the United States, I believe that it is extremely important to inform today’s youth of the fascinating history of Arizona’s Native American tribes,” Kay writes. “In this era of digital media, it is essential to bring technology into the classroom, and I was able to do just that.”

Demonstrating success

Kay’s parents are both teachers, and she was inspired by their dedication to their students to follow in their footsteps. Through the award-winning College of Education, Kay says she received the hands-on, practical training she needed to both excel as a teacher and later form the lesson plan that would be the winning entry in the statewide contest.

“Everything I learned at the university helped me become the teacher I am, and to write this lesson plan,” Kay says. “Without the material I learned in my classes covering effective lesson plan writing and making accommodations for every student, there is no way I would have been prepared.”

What Kay loves most about teaching is that she is making a difference in the lives of others.

"I like knowing that I'm making an impact on the kids,” Kay explains. “I like being a role model for younger students, and knowing that they look up to me. I hope that I can give them advice that will help them develop into confident individuals.”

For Kay, winning the contest so early in her career is a sign that she was more than prepared by her alma mater.

“At the university, I met a lot of great people and I had great connections with my professors,” Kay says. “It was a life-changing experience that made all the difference for me.”