ARCADIA — Arcadia Unified School District history teacher Karalee Nakatsuka recently made her own history.
Of the tens of thousands of history teachers throughout California, Nakatsuka, who teaches at First Avenue Middle School, was named the 2019 California History Teacher of the Year and top ten finalist for the National History Teacher of the Year award by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
There was standing room only in First Avenue Middle School’s auditorium on Sept. 6 as Nakatsuka’s students, family, friends, and colleagues gathered to celebrate Nakatsuka for a ceremony in recognition of her esteemed accomplishment. Bouncing off the walls were roars of applause and cheers of support from a sea of green that filled the seats — Nakatsuka’s favorite color and a color that represents her passion for frogs and frog-tastic puns.
“My mission as a U.S. history teacher is to educate the whole child by making history come alive so students learn the lessons of the past in order to inform the decisions of today and plan and prepare for tomorrow,” said Nakatsuka. “In my classroom, my goal is to establish a climate and a culture that encourages my students to be critical thinkers, effective collaborators, life-long learners and empathetic, informed citizens who care and contribute to society.”
The ceremony stage saw Arcadia Unified’s Board of Education members and Superintendent Dr. David Vannasdall as well as First Avenue Middle School Principal Dr. Semeen Issa, Arcadia Mayor April Verlato, and Gilder Lehrman Institute representative Jack Bareilles gathered together to share words, certificates, and other congratulatory tokens to celebrate Nakatsuka’s commitment to her students, colleagues, and profession.
“Ms. Nakatsuka teaches important historical concepts in meaningful ways, opening the door for students to understand and engage with history and paving the way for rich conversation and interaction with the subject matter,” shared Bareilles, who made a trek all the way from Humboldt County to present Nakatsuka with her official certificate of recognition.
Nakatsuka has been an educator in Arcadia Unified since 1990. She earned a B.A. in American studies at Occidental College and has a Social Studies Credential and Master of Education degree from UCLA.
In conjunction with Nakatsuka’s recognition, First Avenue Middle School will receive a $1,000 honorarium as well as a core archive of American history books and Gilder Lehrman educational materials.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute’s History Teacher of the Year Award program seeks to illuminate the crucial importance of history education by honoring exceptional American history teachers from elementary school through high school. The award honors one K-12 teacher from each state, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense schools and U.S. Territories.
The title of National History Teacher of the Year went to Alysha Butler, a social studies teacher at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C., who will be honored on Oct. 2 at a ceremony in New York, where the presenter will be John Avlon, senior political analyst and anchor at CNN.
In addition to Nakatsuka, the finalists were Karen M. Cook, Norwich Free Academy, in Norwich, Conn.; Ellen Fisher, Frances Richmond Middle School, Hanover, N.H.; Carla Flanhofer, Peak to Peak Charter School, Lafayette, Colo.; Amy King, Chatham Central High School, Bear Creek, N.C.; Doug Logan, Randall K. Cooper High School, Union, Ky.; Michael Neagle, Pyne Arts Magnet School, Lowell, Mass.; Scott Noet, Owatonna Public Schools, Owatonna, Minn.; and John Zingale, iTech Preparatory, Vancouver, Wash.