(FOX 9) - Teachers throughout the state of Minnesota have been required to adapt to hybrid learning and COVID-related outbreaks and restrictions since the start of the pandemic.
While all educators have received increased attention for the work they have done on behalf of students, Sarah Lancaster, a first-grade teacher at Onamia Elementary School in the Onamia district, has been named the 2022 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
Lancaster is the 58th recipient of the award, and the first from the Onamia district. She’s also the first teacher of Asian Pacific Islander descent to receive it.
"No matter the age of the students she is working with, Sarah displays an unrivaled amount of passion for student education and improvement," Cynthia Martin, a fellow first-grade teacher at Onamia Elementary, said in a letter of recommendation for Lancaster. "Sarah is forever willing and open to acquiring new knowledge to help students in need of intervention or enrichment. Her breadth of knowledge in teaching methods is vast, and she is able to connect with students in so many effective ways."
Education Minnesota, the 86,000-member statewide educators union, organizes and underwrites the Teacher of the Year program. Candidates include pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers, ECFE and ABE teachers from public or private schools.
An independent selection committee representing Minnesota leaders in education, business and government chooses the Teacher of the Year from individuals who are nominated. A total of 11 finalists were named in April.
According to the announcement, Lancaster’s first and only teaching job has been in her hometown, working with third- and first-grade students in Onamia Public Schools over the last nine years.
She says it’s important to live in the town where she teaches so her students can see and identify her, the only BIPOC educator in her district, as a community leader.
"I want to give back to the community that once helped to set me up for success," Lancaster said in a statement.
Lancaster believes in the power of relationships and helping her students establish an identity for themselves.
"As a teacher, I get to show my students that they can reach beyond whatever barriers they encounter," she said in a video submitted to the Teacher of the Year selection panel. "I get to show them that beyond these barriers is an amazing person, a scholar, an athlete, someone looking to connect with their culture and find their true identity. I can supply and awaken the language, strategies, enthusiasm and joy that very well may have been inside them all along."
In addition to teaching, Lancaster has coached more than 20 seasons of both athletics and arts programs, directing three annual high school musicals and volunteering with local youth groups through her church.
She currently serves as President of the Onamia Area Civic Association.
Lancaster holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and design from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.