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Ketchum Teacher Honored by Idaho Humanities Council
Teacher guide Annika Berry fosters the love of learning by giving children freedom, said Head of School Molly Lansing.
Monday, May 20, 2024


Annika Berry presides over a class of 28 inquisitive children at Pioneer Montessori. But that doesn’t keep her from nurturing each student’s interest, whether it be guiding them as they build a 4-foot model of the Titanic or while building a replica of an Egyptian pyramid.

Her ability to encourage a passion for learning just earned her one of three Outstanding Humanities Educator Awards for K-12 educators throughout Idaho.

Berry’s students and their parents turned out Friday afternoon to honor her as she was presented with a glass trophy from the Idaho Humanities Council and several armfuls of flowers. She was also given a $1,500 cash award.

Annika Berry gets a hug from Kathryn McNeal at the awards ceremony.

“I first met Miss Annika four years ago when she interviewed for a teacher’s position, and I could feel the passion she had,” Head of School Molly Lansing told those gathered in the school yard. “What I could not have predicted was the incredible impact she would have on the entire school… Some have called her classroom magical. And, after we closed for a snow day, several of her students asked me, ‘Miss Molly. did you really have to close school for a day?’ ”

Berry, who guides first- through third-graders, champions personal choice, openness of expression and adventurous immersive learning experiences.

This past week she and her students sat in a circle as they discussed why it’s important not to make fun of someone and how to give someone a kind reminder if that person does something they don’t like.

“There are so many bodies in this room you could hurt one another if you don’t use them appropriately,” she told the students. “It’s important that we control our bodies to get along as a community.”

Annika Berry spends a lot of one-on-one time with children as she guides them in learning math and other concepts.

Berry’s Early Humans Project helped students understand their place in the world, said Office Administrator Julia Sarewitz. Students researched early humans and created three-dimensional models. When one student became interested in the early Egyptians, she guided that student through map drawing and researching Egyptian pharaohs, music and food.

“I learned some of the obscure names to parts of ship I never knew existed when some of the students researched the Titanic,” said Lansing.

The students have written to the President, favorite authors and sports players, and they’ve gotten replies to many of those letters.

“Miss Annika knows exactly what each student is working on at a given point in time and encourages them to move onto a new challenge when they’re ready,” said Jessica Evett, director of Advancement for Idaho Humanities Council. “She says that she hopes her teaching highlights the unique traits that each individual holds and the greatness that can come when that uniqueness is honored.” 

Often, students form groups of two or more as they do classroom work.

When the students wanted to learn how to make donuts, Miss Annika led them to a bakery. When they wanted to make croissants, they went to the store where they purchased the ingredients, then rolled out the dough.

When some students noted that playground balls were not being picked up, they brainstormed what could be done about it. When some students became chagrined that younger students were not flushing toilets, they came up with a strategy for addressing that.

“Miss Annika is exceptional at working with students on interpersonal relationship skills,” said Lansing. “And she makes students feel safe and comfortable so they can bring their concerns and questions to their agenda meetings and support each other, work through potential conflicts.”

During Friday’s ceremony students held up one-word signs describing their teacher: Empowering, kind, cool, lovely, patient, warm-hearted, nice, smart. Others noted: She doesn’t pressure us. She makes me confident I can do hard work. She’s good when I mess up.

Annika Berry said she felt pretty special at Friday’s award ceremony.

Kathryn McNeal, who nominated Berry for the Humanities Award, noted that her own children are always coming home with Miss Annika stories.

“How many of you have begged Miss Annika to keep reading because you have to know what comes next?” she asked the students. “Miss Annika tells us stories that make us curious.”

Berry smiled through her tears as she listened to the accolades.

“My students each bring a unique vibrancy to the community,” she said, “And I never know what will unfold each day.”


Raul Pedraza, the sixth- to eighth-grade teacher at Vallivue Middle School in Caldwell, helps Latino students connect with their cultural heritage by emphasizing the ancient Mesoamerican cultures and drawing parallels to such stories as George Washington crossing the Delaware. He highlights such accomplishments as the Incas’ building of Machu Picchu in Peru and the Mayas’ invention of the number zero.  

Josh Udesen, who has shown his trout-inspired artwork at the Sun Valley Arts and Crafts Festival, teaches ninth- through twelfth-graders at Riverstone International School in Boise. He uses his world religions course to encourage curiosity about the variety of expressions of the human spirit while teaching students about the value of differences.

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