Magazine Feature / People

Alum recognized for teaching, leadership potential

Jayne Vahle, BA ’99, MA ’06, was trying to get her high school students to pay attention at an assembly when she heard her name called. To her surprise, the gathering was in her honor.

The entire student body, faculty and staff of Bear Creek High School in Jefferson County came together to congratulate Vahle as a recipient of the National Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on improving education and medical research. Nominated by the school’s administrative staff, Vahle was one of 100 K-12 educators in the country to receive the award in 2006.

Vahle accepted the honor—which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 for her educational talent, accomplishments and leadership potential in the field. But she says her initial response was a twinge of guilt.

“A lot of who I am as a teacher is because other teachers’ work at my school,” she says.

She plans to spend the money paying off student loans, she says.

Vahle is not one who believes she knows everything about teaching, but she has an insatiable hunger to learn, says DU English Department Chair Ann Dobyns.

“She has this intense intellectual curiosity that we hope to have in all DU students,” Dobyns says.

When asked to describe her student, Dobyns says, “Jayne really works hard to identify with the person with whom she is speaking.”

Vahle began teaching high school in Englewood the fall of 1999, and after two years, she returned to DU for a master’s degree in English with an emphasis on rhetoric. Still, she says, her passion was teaching high school.

In 2003, while working on her thesis, she began teaching at Bear Creek. In the last three years, Vahle’s accomplishments have included improvement in her students’ test scores and the co-creation of a ninth-grade reading program.

Teaching reading development and advanced placement courses, Vahle is committed to all her students, Dobyns says. Vahle talks about both groups of students “with equal excitement and delight.”

Even with her heart in the classroom, Dobyns says, Vahle’s academic contributions should not be underestimated.

Vahle’s master’s thesis examined the effects of service learning on teaching rhetoric.

“She’s addressing the consequences of service learning—a question that people really need to think about in some subtle and complicated ways,” Dobyns says.

As Vahle continues teaching high school, she says she will also attend conferences and present her research findings.

This article originally appeared in The Source, January 2006.

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