GCU alumna wins Arizona Teacher of the Year
Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Lynette Stant made history on Thursday when hundreds of Arizona teachers rose to their feet to applaud the Grand Canyon University alumna as she took the stage at the Arizona Biltmore.
“I stand here in a momentous moment. I’m the first Native American woman to be named Arizona Teacher of the Year,” Stant said of the honor from the Arizona Educational Foundation. “My educational journey began on a Navajo Reservation and public school, where I was lucky enough to have teachers who inspired me to love school.”
The first-generation college student, whose Navajo parents encouraged her calm demeanor and desire to learn, said college was not easy at first. Yet she earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Arizona State and a Master of Arts in Teaching in 2006 from GCU.
What drove the Salt River Elementary School third-grade teacher was a desire to prepare Native American children for those same chances at a college education “in an environment that respects and honors Native American culture.”
For too many Native Americans, she told the crowd, the narrative has been sad.
“It is not a secret that the education of native peoples is drenched in historical trauma,” she said. “As a Navajo woman teaching in a Native America school, teaching Native American students, my goal is to change that narrative.”
Stant will represent Arizona in the competition for National Teacher of the Year. She is the second GCU alum to win the award in four years; Christine Marsh won it in 2016.
“Lynette is a passionate educator for her students, school and community. She is an inspirational role model for all educators, but especially our future teachers,” said Dr. Kimberly LaPrade, Dean of GCU’s College of Education. “We are so very proud of Lynette and this well-earned accomplishment. She will be an amazing champion for our profession.”
Three of the five semifinalists for Arizona Teacher of the Year also have GCU degrees: Lauren Cluff, a reading interventionist at Hughes Elementary School in Mesa, earned a Master’s in Education in reader curriculum development in 2014; Angie Edington, an early childhood special education teacher at Faith North Early Childhood Learning Center in Phoenix, earned her Master’s in Education in curriculum and instruction in 2014; Allison McElwee, a third grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary School in Humboldt Unified School District in Prescott Valley, received her Master’s in Education in curriculum and instruction in 2014.
Stant said her GCU education was vital.
“I really enjoyed the small setting. I needed that. We were able to have conversations about education,” she said. “And our projects were meaningful because we were able to go back and develop them at our school and share with them what works.”
Stant is the kind of teacher that “when a student misses school, she visits the student, sits on the concrete carport and teaches the reading lesson,” said Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, Associate Dean for the College of Education and a member of the AEF judging panel.
“Reading her application, it was filled with examples of how she is devoted to learning, leading and serving.”
One of her instructors at GCU was Dr. Bob Campbell, who was in attendance and is himself a former Teacher of the Year.
Stant stressed that every student, regardless of background or learning ability, deserves an equitable education. All teachers are responsible for that, “not just to those that come to school prepared with a backpack and a pencil box full of writing utensils. We must dedicate ourselves to the kids who need us the most, the ones with no backpacks but who have eyes filled with belief that education will change the course of their lives.”
She is a 15-year veteran teacher in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and gave a shout-out to her students.
“My heart goes out to my 38 students who are sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear how Mrs. Stant’s day went,” she said.
She said the students are like family and she thinks of them constantly, even on the weekends.
“This community is a mirror of who I am. It is a mirror of where I grew up. When I decided to teach, I wanted to be the Native American that Native American students can walk in and see and think, ‘That is someone like me. I can be like that.’”
She also credited her daughter in media interviews following the ceremony.
When Taylor was born 23 years ago, Stant decided to become a teacher.
“When I had my baby, I wanted a career that would allow me to be more active in her schooling,” she said of her daughter, now a college senior.
She brings a rich heritage and history to her classroom.
“One thing that reflects my culture in my calmness,” she said. “I think part of that is something I brought from home. My parents are very calming people. Both my parents speak Navajo and are very calm. My mom and dad had the philosophy that you should never raise your voice at a child if you want them to listen. I think it made a big difference.
“That’s one of the things my kids see when they step into my classroom. Even when adults walk into my classroom, they say, ‘I wish I could stay here all day long.’ “
In the following year, she will bring her voice to events statewide as the Teacher of the Year.
“Native American students have to seek out role models,” she said. “A lot of times in communities, especially in rural settings, you don’t always find that. So I want to be that role model,” she said.
“I want to be the voice of not only native communities but rural communities. Just because those communities are small doesn’t mean they don’t deserve an equitable education.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.