June 3, 2009 > All-Star teacher award finalist
All-Star teacher award finalist
By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By Miriam G. Mazliach
"When I found out about my nomination, I didn't really understand the implications," says Susan Piekarski. "As word spread as the day went on, my excitement and nervousness grew. I've never been on live TV before."
Comcast SportsNet will interview Piekarski and four other finalists for the All-Star Teacher Award at the June 5 A's game. The winner will be announced during the June 12 Giant's game, and a $10,000 check will be presented to his or her school.
The All-Star Teacher Award acknowledges middle and high school teachers for their dedication to students and the community. Community leaders selected the finalists based on their accomplishments in the areas of overall commitment, excellence in teaching, rapport with students and level of distinction.
David Lau, one of Piekarski's senior students, started the nomination process by submitting an essay about her. He is the president of the speech and debate team she coaches and was also in "We the People," a competitive government class that simulates Congressional hearings. According to Piekarski, "David kept coming into my classroom and asking me which sports teams I liked. I didn't realized it would get this far, to be a finalist."
Piekarski teaches World History and Advanced Placement Government/Economics at Irvington High School in Fremont. She coaches the school's award-winning speech and debate team with Allyson McAuley, the school's librarian. She also coaches "We the People" with teacher Cheryl Cook-Kallio.
Irvington's Debate/Speech class has participated at the district, regional, state and national levels. The high school's "We the People" team placed fifth in the state this year. The sponsoring organization, Center for Civic Education, sent Piekarski to the national finals this year as a "scholarship teacher," which means she has been pegged as an "up and comer" whom they want to help become a better coach.
According to Piekarski, her love of debate can be traced back to high school. "I was told by my English teacher, Ms. Damron, that I was a good speaker. She inspired me as did my Debate/Speech teacher, Mr. Ogden. As a senior, I competed in "We the People," and our team placed third. Continuing into college, I was a competitive debater, for three of my four years and was nationally ranked in my senior year."
After earning a B.A. in History with a Political Science minor from Cal Poly, Piekarski received her teaching credential from California State University Hayward. She taught at Newark Memorial High School for a year before coming to Irvington, where she is completing her fourth year.
Last year, Piekarski was awarded the James Madison Memorial Fellowship, funded by Congress. It is a merit scholarship toward a Master's degree in the area of the Constitution. Only one person per state per year receives this fellowship. She will continue teaching while taking classes part time at San Jose State University to reach her goal of a Master's in History.
"I like teaching more than I thought I would. I'm pleasantly surprised," adds Piekarski. "You definitely have to build the balanced life with teaching. I tend to get bored when I don't have a variety of things to do, so I've been really involved in politics. I can make it real for the students because I know so many of the local political leaders in our area."
Piekarski and Cook-Kallio take their students to political events to help them intern with politicians in the area. "It's more an issue of them staying civically engaged, better informed and involved in the community. I enjoy teaching concepts and how they apply to everyday life," says Piekarski.
The Fremont community is important to her, and Piekarski appreciates their support. "As the excitement builds toward the July 12 television announcement, even Principal Peter Murchison is sending out emails.
"If I win, I would like to be able to purchase netbooks, miniature laptops for the students, and create a paperless classroom. The rest of the money would be used where needed most at Irvington."
The public can vote for Piekarski from May 18 through July 8 by going to