Elena Kamenetzky, a Japanese teacher at Eastern High School (Jefferson County), is the 2019 recipient of the Kentucky World Language Association (KWLA) Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award. She received the award Sept. 28 at the KWLA annual conference in Lexington.
Before coming to teach Japanese at Eastern High School in 2010, Kamenetzky was an assistant teacher of English at two middle schools as part of the JET Program in Achi Village, Japan, from 2006 to 2009.
Kamenetzky earned her bachelor’s in Asian studies with minors in education and linguistics from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn. She earned her credentials for teaching Japanese, grades K-12, through the Master of Arts in Teaching program from Northern Kentucky University in 2010.
In addition to teaching, she has served on the board of the Kentucky World Language Association as president of the Kentucky Association of Japanese Language Teachers (KAJLT) from 2014 to 2016. She also has served KAJLT as vice president and treasurer, as well as mentoring current and future Japanese teachers through hosting student teachers and presenting at conferences.
The list of awards and achievements won by students under her guidance includes: Kentucky State Japan Bowl Champions in 2015, multiple awards won in the Bluegrass Area Japanese Speech Contest 2012-2018, and top awards in all categories of Japanese performance every year from 2013 to 2018 at the Kentucky World Language Showcase sponsored by KWLA. Kamenetzky’s students have experienced the culture of Japan through summer trips every two years, which gives her students the opportunity to experience firsthand cultural activities in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Fukushima.
The six other candidates for KWLA’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, who represented Kentucky chapters of professional language organizations, included:
- Cynthia Shiroma, Latin teacher at duPont Manual High School (Jefferson County), Outstanding Latin Teacher;
- Sandra Forster-Terrell, German teacher at Atherton High School (Jefferson County), Outstanding German Teacher;
- Francisco Castillo, a social studies and Spanish immersion teacher at Bryan Station Middle School (Fayette County), Outstanding Spanish Teacher;
- Linda Froehlich, French teacher at the Sayre School (Fayette County), Outstanding French Teacher;
- Lisa Podbilski, Chinese teacher at Louisville Collegiate School (Jefferson County), Outstanding Chinese Teacher; and
- Yan Wang, Chinese teacher at Dixie Elementary Magnet School (Fayette County), Outstanding National Network for Early Language Learning
Kamenetzky received the Outstanding Japanese Teacher of the Year Award before receiving the top honor as the KWLA’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award. In March, she will represent Kentucky world languages teachers at the Southern Conference on Language Teaching. The SCOLT regional Teacher of the Year Award winner will advance to the national level to compete for the National World Languages Teacher of the Year Award, given by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
KWLA also awarded its Outstanding New Teacher Award to Amy Chalmers, a Spanish teacher at Prestonsburg High School (Floyd County). The award recognizes excellence in teaching world languages among new teachers with five years of experience or less.
Chalmers has been teaching at Prestonsburg since 2015 and in that short time has established a proficiency-focused, performance-based classroom curriculum in Spanish, sponsored the school’s chapter of the National Spanish Honor Society, sponsored other clubs and served as coach for track and Science Olympiad. She has traveled with students to Spanish-speaking countries, worked to raise awareness and to improve the mental health of her students, and mentored other Spanish teachers in her region through planning and providing professional development through Teacher for America.
Since 1974, KWLA has endeavored to support, celebrate and highlight excellence in teaching world languages in Kentucky schools. The teachers mentioned here are the latest examples of what we already know about education in Kentucky; we have the tools and the talent to do great things and to lead our students to achieve success at high levels!
Ben Hawkins is a French teacher at East Carter High School (Carter County) and serves as the awards committee chairperson for the Kentucky World Language Association.