May 15—California native Allison Kirkley says she seeks to encourage her math students at Muskogee Seventh & Eighth Grade Academy.
"I really wanted to make sure that students that were like me, that had the potential, had someone in their corner to root for them," Kirkley said.
Kirkley's colleagues seemed to root for her. The second-year teacher was one of three area teachers receiving 20 Under 2 Novice Teaching Awards, sponsored by the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma.
The other two area teachers honored were:
—Fort Gibson Intermediate Elementary fifth-grade teacher Blake Karr.
—Haskell High School math teacher Henry Mitchel Bibelheimer.
The award was created to recognize the talent and dedication of Oklahoma's newest teachers amidst a challenging landscape, according to a media release.
Seventh & Eighth Grade Academy Principal Ryan Buell called Kirkley a dynamic educator.
"She does as much outside the classroom as she does inside the classroom," Buell said. "She's an expert at building relationships and offers top-notch education to all her students."
Kirkley, who is of Hispanic and white descent, said she got into teaching because she wanted to give back to a community that looks like her.
"When I was trying to find something to do out of college, I heard about Teach for America, and it sounded like something I can do," she said. "I'm from Compton, California, so communities that look like mine are really important to me."
Kirkley said she grew up in a low-income socio-economic area. She said her father worked two to three jobs to support the family, and was constantly moving.
Intermediate Elementary Principal Andrea Sifers said Karr "is one of those teachers that does everything right."
"You can always count on her to do what's best for kids," Sifers said. "She has a classroom that encourages innovation and hard work and excellence. She just puts the kids first."
Karr, a first-year teacher, said she was shocked to receive the award. She said her students got to watch her receive her award and prizes on Friday.
The Sallisaw native said she feels grateful to be nominated.
"My co-workers are so awesome and my students are so awesome, which makes me an awesome teacher," she said, adding that first year in the classroom exceeded her expectations, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We had so much fun," she said
Bibelheimer said he was surprised and honored to receive the award.
"As a first-year teacher, you question yourself a lot, because you're not really sure what you're doing all the time," he said. "Getting that award kind of validated that I was doing the right thing, doing something right."
A 2014 Haskell graduate, Bibelheimer earned a degree in economics and international business from Oklahoma State University in 2018.
He said he was working with community development in the Philippines when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. He returned to Oklahoma to seek other opportunities.
The 20 Under 2 honorees receive a $250 gift card to the Tulsa independent bookstore Magic City Books to build their classroom libraries. They also receive a gift box that includes a custom 20 Under 2 plaque, a Round Table membership from Magic City Books, a custom notebook and other goodies.
Headquartered in Tulsa, the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma partners with school districts to develop highly skilled teachers and school leaders.
Oklahoma principals, veteran teachers, and district leaders submitted their top novice teachers for consideration. Each nomination was reviewed by a committee of education professionals and chosen through a multi-stage selection process. The honorees were selected for outstanding classroom culture, for fostering academic success, and for their commitment to Oklahoma students and communities.