While working as a swim instructor, Sara Voinovich discovered a passion for helping special-needs children that would come to epitomize her career.
“When I was younger, I was a swimming instructor, and I was able to work with a special-needs boy,” Voinovich said. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but that was the moment I realized how rewarding special education can be.”
Voinovich followed her dream and is now a special-education teacher at Kahoa Elementary School. She works daily with students with behavior disorders, developmental delays, severe autism, seizure disorders, and learning and physical disabilities.
Earlier this month, her hard work was recognized, as she was named Nebraska’s recipient of the National University System’s Sanford Teacher Award and awarded $10,000 during a surprise Zoom meeting. A fellow teacher nominated her for the award, and she was unaware until the moment it was announced.
“It was kind of shocking,” Voinovich said. “We were totally wide-eyed.”
She's one of 51 finalists, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, eligible to be a grand-prize winner as the nation’s top inspiring teacher.
Voinovich’s colleagues are excited to see her passion for teaching recognized — and rewarded.
She's constantly working to improve the programming available to students by serving on building and district committees, team-building with colleagues and taking new classes to learn updated curriculum, said Amy Peterson, a fellow special-education teacher.
“Accolades like this are very hard for Sara," Peterson said. "She’d much prefer to fly under the radar and just keep working with kids. She is, however, very deserving of this award.”
Teaching is not limited to interactions with students, but also involves building trust and a working relationship with parents, Peterson said.
“I think parents are happy she is working with their child and comfortable talking to Sara about both academic and personal concerns that affect their child,” Peterson said.
Voinovich represents Kahoa, LPS and its many hardworking, dedicated and talented teachers, Principal Terri Nelson said.
“If one of her students is not experiencing success, Sara is finding out why and what she needs to do to support that student to be successful,” Nelson said. “She knows her students and cares about them deeply.”
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