The Nelson Family Foundation — as it has for the past 11 years — recognized five local teachers for excellence in their chosen profession. The annual awards reflect the late H.H. “Red” and Ruth H. Nelson’s dedication to education as well as their family’s desire to honor their dedication.
The five teachers selected this year included Stephanie Donner, Amy Gustafson, Carla Hartenhoff, Penny Matuszeski and Joel Nelson.
Donner has been with the Lewis Central Community School District since 2007 and currently teaches at Titan Hill Intermediate School. She has taught second grade for her entire 12-year career with the Lewis Central District.
A nominator’s comments were telling of her dedication to her students and their success: “Mrs. Donner puts her whole heart into her teaching and does everything she can to give her students – and even their families — meaningful learning experiences.
Another parent noted, “Her love for and belief in her students is evident in the many everyday things that she does.” Donner was described as giving willingly of her time to create special experiences for her students, encouraging them to stretch themselves to take on new challenges.
Gustafson is completing her 22nd year of teaching, having started her career with the Council Bluffs Community School District, where she has remained, prior to the 1997-98 school year.
She currently teaches second grade at Franklin Elementary. Prior to her current role, she taught special education at Roosevelt Elementary and fifth grade at Franklin.
As those who submitted nominations noted, “No matter which children enter her classroom, they are met with open arms. She works with each and every one of them as if they are the only child in the room — no matter their background, learning ability or behavior problems.”
As part of the Elementary Transitions Program, Gustafson worked to transition students with a variety of behavioral and mental health disorders back into the classroom.
Hartenhoff, whose educational career spans 24 years, has been with the Council Bluffs Community School District since 2008, currently serving as a professional school counselor at Thomas Jefferson High School specializing in advanced education and working primarily with seniors.
Perhaps the most telling comment came from a student: “A student’s senior year is bittersweet. You spend half your time trying to make the most of your final year of high school and the other half stressing about every single detail of your future. It is crucial to have a support system that will push you beyond expectations, cheer you on and be by your side when life is overbearing. Mrs. Hartenhoff is all of those things for her students.”
Matuszeski, current a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Kirn Middle School, has been with the Council Bluffs Community School District since 1995.
Prior to her current role, she taught preschool and first grade, served as a reading recovery teacher and literacy strategist and was an instruction coach.
As one parent noted, “My child struggled in reading and math. He had no confidence in himself or his studies. He never did well in testing, and it was making him sad and depressed. As his tutor, Penny was always there building his confidence, teaching him the building blocks — and he is now confident and has made the honor roll. He would not be so successful if it wasn’t for Penny.”
Nelson has taught a wide array of high school math courses at Abraham Lincoln High School for over 13 years. Currently the chair of the Mathematics Department, he led the department in the adoption of a new curriculum. He has also been active in the school’s sports activities, serving as a coach or assistant coach.
As one colleague noted, “The best educators know that teaching happens outside the walls of the classroom and beyond the eight-hour workday. They relentlessly show students how much they care by being present, by listening, by refusing to settle for the status quo and by always keeping the bar high. Joel Nelson does all of these things for his students each and every day.”
While that comment was written about Nelson, it applies equally to all of the teachers who were so deserving of the Nelson awards.
All of these individuals have a passion for shaping and improving the lives of students, pushing them to be the best that they can be.
Council Bluffs is indeed fortunate in having them to help mold a better future for the community.