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Northwood Elementary teacher named Alaska Teacher of the Year

Commissioner Michael Johnson presents Kelly Shrein with a plaque commemorating her designation...
Commissioner Michael Johnson presents Kelly Shrein with a plaque commemorating her designation of 2021-2022 Alaska Teacher of the Year.(Anchorage School District | Photo by Louis Velasco/Anchorage School District)
Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 4:56 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A local Anchorage elementary school teacher has been named the 2021-22 Alaska Teacher of the Year.

Kelly Shrein, who teaches at Northwood Elementary School, was chosen this year for the honor, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development announced in a Wednesday press release. Kevin Neyhard, a teacher at Eben Hopson Middle School in Utqiagvik, was selected as the alternate for the award.

“I know so many dedicated, hardworking, inspiring teachers in the (Anchorage School) District,” Shrein said in a Thursday interview. “And to be chosen as the Alaska Teacher of the Year is an incredible honor, and I’m just grateful beyond what words can describe.”

Shrein gained attention throughout the state last year when she went to great lengths to stay connected with the fourth grade students she taught, when the novel coronavirus pandemic closed school doors across the country. Not wanting her students to feel abandoned or that she had forgotten them, she drove around to each of their homes to tell them she missed them, and to check up on them outside the classroom.

“I didn’t get to say goodbye to them,” Shrein said. “... So I just thought, you know, I’m not done with them. I didn’t get to say goodbye, and I didn’t want them to feel like maybe one of the only consistent adults that they had in their lives had just stopped that relationship.”

Shrein visited and talked with her students from a safe distance outside their homes. She asked how they were doing and gave them reading suggestions. By the time those students returned to school virtually the next fall, she said those relationships were already established. Shrein was able to teach those students again as fifth graders, which provided a sense of closure.

“I felt like it was really easy to continue where we had left off because I had already built those relationships with them, and we already all knew each other,” she said.

The same went for when students were finally able to return to the classroom in person. While several aspects of in-person teaching do look different because of the pandemic — heightened cleaning and more physical distance between the students — Shrein said it still feels like her students are willing to learn and that they’re happy to be back.

“We can’t give each other hugs anymore, we can’t give each other high fives anymore,” Shrein said. “But, everything else, emotionally and socially, is still there.”

Shrein is a 2013 graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, according to the release, and has been with the Anchorage School District since then.

“Kelly Shrein is a shining example of what makes Alaska’s educators among the best in the country,” said DEED Commissioner Michael Johnson in the release. “Even in the face of adversity, Mrs. Shrein goes to extraordinary lengths on a daily basis to connect with her students and ensure an excellent education, regardless of the circumstances.”

As part of this recognition, Shrein will have a seat on the commissioner’s Teacher and Educator Advisory Council. She said she hopes to use that opportunity to be a mentor and a resource for other teachers.

“I believe that my students’ education doesn’t just end in the classroom,” she said. " ... And I believe that that means supporting other teachers to succeed as well. Being a mentor, being someone that other teachers feel that they can come to and talk to and get advice from. My hope is, being on that council, that I can really just ... I want to listen at first and just take things in.”

With her seat on the council, Shrein said her goal is to help other teachers have their voices heard.

Teaching at a Title I school, Shrein said she knows uncertainty can be a part of students’ daily lives.

“I believe a significant part of my job is providing a consistent and safe space for six and a half hours of their day,” she said. “And I refuse to let a virus stand in the way of that.”

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