GCU alum wins Diamondbacks’ teaching award
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Ali Nelson never thought she would be taking the field for a Major League Baseball game.
She’s a fourth-grade teacher.
Colorado Rockies’ players were right in front of her, warming up for their game with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Sunday.
But the real stars were Nelson, a Grand Canyon University alumna, and nine others who were honored as Diamondbacks Most Valuable Teacher in STEM, an award inspired by Honeywell. She was cut a $1,000 check for her Sunnyslope School classroom supplies, received a jersey with her name on it and was introduced in a pregame ceremony.
Nelson was nominated by her team at Sunnyslope in Phoenix for her stellar work during a pandemic in her first year of teaching after graduating from GCU in May 2020.
“Our school did a hybrid model last year. I stayed online all year, and it was really challenging,” she said.
Chief among the challenges were helping students adjust to the technology of online learning.
“Literally, how to navigate a computer – ‘What is a tab?’ – just starting from ground zero for those kids just to be comfortable in Google Chrome,” Nelson said.
“And almost every quarter I got a new class list.”
Nelson said she came into the profession after degrees in Elementary Education and Special Education from GCU armed with numerous teaching methods she couldn’t use that first year, while teaching all content to fourth graders.
“Those things were thrown out the window. They weren’t applicable to online learning,” she said. “But the tools that were really applicable was meeting the kids where they are at and making sure you care for them, first and foremost.
“That relationship aspect. ‘I’m an adult that wants you to succeed, and I believe in you.’ That’s when the academic challenges were met.”
Nelson knew that some of what she was able to do last year worked, not because she was introduced at a professional baseball game, but what she heard in the hallways at the beginning of a more normal year at Sunnyslope this fall.
Fifth graders told her that they had great memories of the lessons they learned online the year before.
“I think about them in fourth grade and how that was a terrible year, but I brought some joy to their days while they were alone and isolated,” she said.
That was a home run in Nelson’s first at-bat in teaching.
Sunday, the crowd cheered her for it.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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