At this time of year, as you consider the people for whom you are thankful, we ask that you take two minutes to nominate a deserving educator in your school or community for a 2016 Outstanding Teaching Award! Humanities Texas is accepting nominations for the awards through Friday, December 11. Winners will receive a $5,000 cash award and an additional $500 for their schools to purchase humanities-based instructional materials. Visit our Awards page to submit a nomination.

For our teacher feature this month, we are pleased to highlight five 2015 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients and their recent award presentations.

Rebecca Lacquey, Katy High School, Katy

On November 3, 2015, State Representative John Zerwas and Chase Untermeyer, Humanities Texas board member, presented Rebecca Lacquey of Katy High School with her 2015 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.

Lacquey teaches AP and dual credit U.S. history at Katy High School, where she also sponsors the Katy High School History Club and serves on the district curriculum writing team.

"Ms. Lacquey brings history to life for her students," said Katy High School principal Richard Hull. "She helps them to understand the implications of historical events on students' lives and on the future."

In her classroom, Lacquey challenges her high school students with creative and innovative classroom activities, using music, art, primary documents, historical role-play, and virtual field trips to make history relevant and exciting. As sponsor of the history club, Lacquey provides students with opportunities to explore and connect with history outside the classroom.

"As a teacher of the humanities, I have a responsibility to encourage students to appreciate and pay attention to the world around them," said Lacquey. "The more I can make history engaging and come alive for my students, the more likely [it is] they are going to remember and appreciate history when they are older."

"Through her leadership and innovation in teaching history, Ms. Lacquey motivates students to achieve success," said Representative Zerwas. "I am honored to present Ms. Lacquey with the Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award."

"I get extremely excited when I am accepted to attend a Humanities [Texas] workshop, so you can imagine my excitement when I found out I won this prestigious award," said Lacquey. "Receiving this award from Humanities Texas is such an honor. I cannot think of a more respectable organization whose mission is to help foster an appreciation of the arts, history, and literature—something that I have made a mission to do in my teaching. The award represents more than a decade of hard work and a passion to make history engaging, fun, and relevant for my students. It has been a truly wonderful experience to be recognized by Humanities Texas and thereafter be lauded by my representatives, school district, and local community. I am very appreciative and proud to be an Outstanding Teacher of the Humanities."

Lucy Fischer West, Cathedral High School, El Paso

On October 27, 2015, Cathedral High School in El Paso honored Lucy Fischer West at a special all-school assembly. Hector Retta, Humanities Texas board member, and Sito Negron, district and communications director for State Senator José Rodríguez, presented Ms. West with her 2015 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.

West, who teaches ninth-grade world history at Cathedral High School, was also selected as Teacher of the Year for the Diocese of El Paso in 2014.

To her freshman students, West teaches world history as a journey. Throughout the school year, she orchestrates a variety of projects for her students to learn how world history has shaped their present lives in El Paso and how they, in turn, can better the world community. Her students collect oral histories from their family members to document the experiences of their ancestors and contextualize their own existence.

"My quest is to help students understand the world around them," said West. "The final and perhaps most important achievement of every school year is encouraging students to develop the consciousness that they, at the tender age of fourteen, already have a responsibility to better the world community they are a part of."

West's efforts extend outside her own classroom environment. At Cathedral High School, she has constructed an interdisciplinary humanities program by creating cross-curricular learning opportunities that unite the English, religion, and history departments. Such projects inspire and invigorate not only her students, but the entire school.

Senator Rodríguez commented that West "clearly has made a huge difference not only to her students but to the community and to the world we’re connected with. She exemplifies both education and engagement, which are essential elements of progress for each generation."

"Receiving an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award from Humanities Texas is, above all, humbling," said West. "I am gratified beyond words that the committee found my teaching philosophy and style worthy of it."

Christopher T. F. Hanson, San Marcos High School, San Marcos

On November 2, 2015, State Representative Jason Isaac joined Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore to present Christopher T. F. Hanson with his 2015 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award at San Marcos High School.

Hanson teaches both pre-AP and AP music theory at San Marcos High School and serves as orchestra director for San Marcos CISD, overseeing the program on three campuses: Miller Middle School, Goodnight Middle School, and San Marcos High School. Through his leadership and dedication to music education in the San Marcos community, Hanson was instrumental in bringing the orchestra program to San Marcos CISD schools almost four years ago.

Throughout the school year, Hanson emphasizes to his students that the study of music is both rooted in the performance arts and the humanities. To Hanson, music is not only a vital form of expression, but also a documentation of the human experience throughout history.

"As an outstanding role model, Mr. Hanson brings passion and dedication to his art as an accomplished violinist, composer, researcher, and teacher," said San Marcos CISD Superintendent Mark E. Eads. "San Marcos CISD is fortunate to have him on our team as an educator."

Hanson's students listen to the works of notable composers, explore the lives of those individuals, and examine the cultural contexts in which they created music. His AP music theory students participate in a yearlong project in which they analyze how musical traditions are shaped by social, political, and personal pressures throughout time.

"I push my students to construct the meaning of their experiences and thus further author their own identities and understanding of the world," said Hanson. "My greatest accomplishments as a teacher have been the sense of enlightenment and intellectual freedom expressed by my students after taking one of my courses."

On receiving the award, Hanson said the following: "I am truly honored. It means more than I can express in words. Moments like this are an amazing reminder that what I am doing is making a difference and worth recognizing."

Samantha Neal, Coppell High School, Coppell

On November 3, 2015, State Senator Don Huffines and Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore honored Samantha Neal of Coppell High School with her 2015 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.

Neal, who teaches pre-AP and AP English literature courses, was also voted the 2014–2015 Coppell High School Teacher of the Year.

"Ms. Neal is a true educator in every sense," said Anthony J. Poullard, assistant dean of language and literacy at Coppell High School. "Her enthusiasm and passion, especially for developing authentic learning experiences, were evident the first day I met her. Her genuine passion, her patient spirit, and her love for learning make outstanding contributions to our community."

Neal believes that the power of literature is in its ability to communicate lessons that transcend time and space. As her students read classics such as Animal Farm and 1984, they connect themes within the novels to real-world counterparts, such as dictatorial regimes and privacy issues in the digital age. Her students then create websites to share their research and foster dialogue.

"In my opinion, a good English teacher helps her students see the relevance of the literature they read, but a great English teacher shows her students that they can take the lessons learned from great literature and use them to make positive impacts on the world around them," said Neal. "There is no doubt that great literature changes us. The real work comes in using literature to make changes in the world."

"Congratulations to Samantha Neal of Coppell High School for winning this extremely prestigious award," said Senator Huffines. "She has worked tirelessly with her students and truly deserves this tremendous accolade. Education is one of the pillars of our society and, with teachers like Samantha Neal, I know we have a bright future in Senate District 16.”

"There is such power in teaching and in touching so many young lives, and Humanities Texas does amazing work to bring the teaching of the humanities into a positive light," said Neal. "Making connections to the things young people really care about and helping them to see their own power to create positive change in the world is invaluable. I feel humbled and incredibly honored that my efforts have been recognized."

Jacy King, Chireno High School, Chireno

In an all-school Veterans Day assembly at Chireno High School on November 11, 2015, State Senator Robert Nichols honored Jacy King, 2015 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award recipient.

King teaches both U.S. history and local history at Chireno High School, where she has taught for sixteen years. She is an active member of the Chireno Historical Society and was the Chireno Secondary Campus Teacher of the Year in 2013.

"Mrs. King has created a classroom environment of respect and rapport that fosters a positive climate for learning, equity, and excellence," said former Chireno ISD Superintendent Roger D. Dees. "She is not in the business of accumulating awards, but rather touching young minds and hearts, inspiring dreams, and filling a future with adults who knew a teacher cared."

King epitomizes the art of hands-on instruction and strives to make the past relevant to her history students. In her classes, students learn to churn butter, start a fire with a rock and a piece of flint, gather first-hand accounts from Vietnam veterans, help maintain local historical sites, and investigate their own unique family histories.

In addition to involving her students in their local community, she is also intent on expanding their worldviews and perspectives. Over the years, she has taken classes to New York, Boston, and various countries in Europe.

"I would like to offer my congratulations to Jacy King on winning this award," said Senator Nichols. "Education has and always will be one of the most important things for an individual to obtain. Because of teachers like Mrs. King, who bring creativity and passion to their work, the students in East Texas will receive an education that will benefit them throughout their entire lives."

"This award from Humanities Texas has brought a sense of validation to me," said King. "During my years of educating, I have always hoped I was doing my best job and that I was inspiring young people to be excited about what I was teaching them. The recognition I have recently received has helped me feel that I have accomplished this goal. I am also proud to report that the money given will go toward my graduate school studies as I complete my master's degree in history at Stephen F. Austin State University."

From left to right: State Representative John Zerwas, Humanities Texas Coordinator of Educational Programs Liz James, Rebecca Lacquey, Humanities Texas board member Chase Untermeyer, and Katy High School Principal Rick Hull.
Rebecca Lacquey with her 2015 Outstanding Teaching Award certificate. Photo by Diana L. Porter.
Lacquey leads a classroom activity with students at Katy High School.
Lucy West with her students at Cathedral High School in El Paso.
West receives her 2015 Outstanding Teaching Award from Humanities Texas, along with a senate proclamation in her honor from State Senator José Rodríguez.
West (center) at her award ceremony with Humanities Texas board member Hector Retta; Sito Negron, district and communications director for Senator Rodríguez; Cathedral High School Principal Brother Nick Gonzalez; and the entire Cathedral High School freshman class.
Christopher Hanson plays violin with his students.
Hanson (left) with Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore (center) and State Representative Jason Isaac at his November 2, 2015, presentation.
Hanson conducts a student orchestra.
Back row from left to right: David Apple, Coppell ISD (CISD) school board president; Mike Waldrip, CISD superintendent. Front row from left to right: Mike Jasso, Coppell High School principal; Susie Kemp, CISD school board member; Sam Neal; State Senator Don Huffines; Amy Dungan, CISD school board member; and Sam Moore, Humanities Texas program officer.
Neal and Senator Huffines make the Coppell Cowboys hand signal at Neal's award presentation.
Jacy King (center) displays her award certificate alongside State Senator Robert Nichols (left) and Chireno ISD Superintendent Tim Norman.
King and Senator Nichols with King's friends and family, whom she calls her "cheer squad."
Jacy King, 2015 Outstanding Teaching Award recipient, takes her Chireno High School students on a boat ride around the island of Capri in Italy in 2009.