LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Sandra Kowalczyk

Position: Reading Specialist
School: Patrick Marsh Middle School
School District: Sun Prairie Area School District
City, State: Sun Prairie, WI

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Sandra Kowalczyk was nominated by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous.

Ms. Kowalczyk is truly a LifeChanger who is making a positive impact on students’ lives on a daily basis. Throughout her 28 years as a literacy educator, her mission has centered on creating conditions for all students to learn while building student, college, community, and global partnerships.

Her story as a Life Changer began with her own life. From kindergarten through fifth grade, Ms. Kowalczyk attended a high-poverty Chicago neighborhood school, with paint-peeling off of the walls and doorless bathroom stalls. In each classroom, one teacher single-handedly taught 40 students. Overcrowded conditions necessitated portable classrooms taking over the playground, where she loved to jump rope Double Dutch with her pigtails flying during recess. She was heartbroken when the library was dismantled, with books relegated to rolling carts.

She soon realized that empowerment through education was the answer to challenges caused by disparity. That realization fueled Ms. Kowalczyk's desire to pursue higher education. She graduated from high school a year early at the age of 16. Combining financial aid and her earnings as a waitress, she went on to become the first in her family to earn a university degree.

Recognizing the need for equity and quality in education drove Ms. Kowalczyk to not only become a teacher, but to become the best teacher she could be. After being awarded a full graduate fellowship and earning a Master's Degree, she taught reading for nine years in an impoverished, rural community marked by high unemployment and a growing drug crisis. The reading program flourished under her leadership and was recognized as the Wisconsin winner of the International Reading Association Exemplary Reading Program Award.

For the past 19 years, Ms. Kowalczyk has served as the reading specialist at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her intensive literacy interventions are geared for below-grade-level-readers, including immigrants, English Language Learners, and students living in poverty, homelessness, foster care, or with disabilities.  She provides opportunities for students with first languages other than  English to make use of their first language. Through the years, her students have spoken Spanish, Hmong, Japanese, Tagalog, Chinese, Polish, German, Russian, Mandinka, and Wolof.

Ms. Kowalczyk connects with minority communities to create learning opportunities relevant to students' cultural experiences while encouraging them to stretch beyond the familiar. For example, Gambian parents introduced the Mandinka language and culture through hands-on lessons, including preparing peanut butter stew. A Huichol Indian storyteller from  Nayarit, Mexico taught students to “read”  pictorial yarn and bee wax paintings. Hmong great-grandmothers shared stories behind the stitches in hand embroidered story cloths depicting village life in the mountains of Laos and their exodus during the Vietnam War. Zapotec Indians from Oaxaca, Mexico demonstrated alebrijes wood carving and painting techniques and how to “read” the copal branches to determine what form to carve.

Her Global Reading Challenge was awarded a Global Diversity Grant by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison (WI) for encouraging students to read literature from cultures around the world with diverse perspectives to help them view the world through a global lens.

Providing quality education for all children remains her ongoing mission. She was awarded five grants by a local education foundation to support her innovative initiatives, including

Ms. Kowalczyk also serves as the volunteer coordinator of a Thailand-Wisconsin International Sunrise Program that brings a teacher and five 10-12-year-olds from Thailand to attend her school and participate in community service learning projects for 3 weeks each year.

Ms. Kowalczyk initiated school visits by Lithuanian-American author Ruta Sepetys, who discussed the role of historical fiction in fostering global understanding. She also initiated visits by authors of books set in India honored with the South Asia Book Award - Padma Venkatraman, Kashmira Sheth and Kanyika Kina. Additionally, her students were visited by Laura Resau, who shared her experiences and writing about issues immigrants, refugees, and indigenous peoples from Mexico and Central America face. Ms. Resau's blog featured a literacy weaving project  created by Ms. Kowalczyk's students.

Ms. Kowalczyk's inclusion of international experiences serves as the bedrock of her teaching, and she excites and engages students while promoting global literacy. She was the recipient of U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays summer travel awards in Peru (2016) China (2014) Morocco (2007) and India (2003); was a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar in Istanbul, Turkey (2015) and Oaxaca, Mexico (2010); won the Hilton Teacher Trek Award in Malaysia and Singapore (2014); and the U.S.- Eurasia Teaching Excellence Award in Uzbekistan (2005) where she initiated and implemented a Culture Bag Exchange among multiple middle schools in Wisconsin and Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

"Sandra’s effectiveness as an educator isn’t represented by the stamps in her passport, but by her commitment to fostering global competency," her nominator said.  "She prompts students to set their sights on books in locales from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, guiding struggling readers in navigating uncharted waters of texts. Sandra was honored with the United States Board on Books for Young People Bridge to Understanding Award for promoting international understandings through literacy programming, as well as the James Patterson Foundation PageTurner Award, given by the best-selling author for original literacy programing that spreads the excitement of books in an effective and original way."

A teacher epitomizing teaching and learning without boundaries, Ms. Kowalczyk was a 2015 Top 50 Finalist worldwide for the Varkey Foundation 2015 Global Teacher Prize.  Subsequently, as a Varkey Teacher Ambassador (VTA), she collaborates with her VTA colleagues representing over 60 nations.

Ms. Kowalczyk strongly advocates for educational excellence, holding her students and herself to high standards. As the first middle school teacher in her district to earn National Board Teacher Certification, she successfully mentors others through the process. She has published journal articles and a book chapter and presents locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. Her activism in educational organizations and networks has had a game-changing impact on many educators, with its trickle down effect impacting the lives of thousands of students.

Ms. Kowalczyk was named Wisconsin 2009 Middle School Teacher of the Year. Student testimonials were insightful:

“Reading used to make me cry, but Mrs. Kowalczyk made it fun.”

“I didn’t like to read, but that was before I met Mrs. Kowalczyk. Now I read almost every night. She inspired me to do that.”

“Mrs Kowalczyk deserves this honor because she pushed us and never gave up on us.”

She has received many accolades, including: Association for Middle Level Educator of the Year 2018 Educator of the Year;  the 2018 Butler-Cooley Excellence in Teaching Award honoring teachers who have demonstrated their capacity to change the outcome of students’ lives and communities where they teach; and the National Council of Teachers of English  2015 Outstanding Middle Level Educator Award for demonstrating excellence in teaching and inspiring a spirit of inquiry and a love of learning in her students.

Ms. Kowalczyk's belief that all students can succeed is the keystone of her teaching philosophy. She develops creative teaching techniques that are challenging, integrative, and exploratory to raise aspirations and empower and motivate hopes and dreams.

"She has changed the outcome of students’ lives by immersing them not only in literacy, but in social justice and cultural experiences as well. We are fortunate and privileged to have such a dedicated and creative educator in our midst," her nominator said.



Comments (66)


Lynne Kelly Posted 2 days ago

Sandra is an enthusiastic and passionate teacher who passes that passion and enthusiasm for reading along to her students. The innovative activities she brings to her classroom foster curiosity and show students how books connect us to others around the world. Learning to love books is life-changing, and Ms. Kowalczyk's students are fortunate to have her as a teacher!

Andrea Daniels Posted 5 days ago

The Sun Prairie Area School District is lucky to have someone like Sandy to be an advocate for high levels of learning for all students. Sandy works tirelessly to ensure that ALL kids have the opportunity to connect to learning in a way that makes sense for them. Sandy's deep love of teaching and learning is apparent in everything that she does. I am proud to offer my support for Sandy in this nomination process -- there is no one more deserving!

Lynne Jeffris Posted 5 days ago

After reading the above bio I am no longer surprised by Ms. Kowalczyk's dedication and service. All students who are fortunate to have been under her tutelage have benefitted. Her enthusiasm is catching. Her inclusion and high expectancy for each puts them on a path toward excellence. In turn every student with whom she comes in contact is sure to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.There is no better outcome for a teacher.

Linda Neesam Posted 7 days ago

Sandy is truly a life changer! The passion she has for her students to learn either through her own personal travels that she has shared ,I am tha or just having that desire for her students to succeed.Sandy is truly a asset to Patrick Marsh Middle School. Thank You Sandy for making such a difference in our students.

Janet Rosseter Posted 8 days ago

The Sun Prairie Area School District is so fortunate to have a role model like Sandy for both our students and staff. Her dedication and passion is to make a lasting difference in the lives of students. She makes learning fun. She is the person that many students will later reflect about and say, "I am who I am today because of her - she made a difference for me." That is what education is all about - making a difference. We are grateful for Sandy's leadership!

Erin Traub Posted 8 days ago

Sandy shows an amazing love of students. She is always on the lookout for books that will appeal to her struggling readers. Her first thought is always about students and getting them interested in reading.

Vincent Cherry, Sr. Posted 8 days ago

Mrs.Kowalczyk has positively impacted the lives of so many students that counting is almost impossible. I spent many hours as a volunteer un her classroom and witnessed her dedication, determination, perseverance in not only instructing, and guiding students but also in motivating and encouraging them to excel. The results I can honestly as emphatically state are stupendous.

Mrs Yupha Iemsanguan Posted 9 days ago

I am the Director of Foreign Relations Group in the Office of the Basic Education Commission of the Ministry of Education, Thailand. I first met Sandra Kowalczyk almost four years ago through her involvement in the Thailand - Wisconsin Sunrise Program, a partnership between Ministry of Education, Thailand and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. In my position, I oversee the Sunrise Program sending groups of students and teachers to Wisconsin schools for three weeks each year. This program provides opportunities for our students to learn about the United States and teach their Wisconsin counterparts about Thailand. Sandra serves as the volunteer coordinator at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie which hosts a teacher and five 10-12 year old students each year. She finds safe and loving homes for them and gives them the best experiences at school. Visiting Sandra at her school is the highlight of my trip to the United States every year. Sandra hosted an official delegation from the Thailand Ministry of Education and led them on a tour of her school. She invited the delegation to a specialty pizza lunch with her students and colleagues and our Thai students. Friendships and educational connections continue when the visits end. Through her efforts, incredible experiences for students and educators have changed many lives for the better!

Bernard Falkin Posted 9 days ago

My almost 90-year-old Aunt Joyce has been volunteering in Ms. Kowalczyk's classroom for 15 years! She asked Ms. Kowalczyk's if I could come to one of her after school programs and talk to the kids, show them pictures that I took at different events, and also a 19 day cruise down to the Panama Canal that I did this year. The children really enjoyed the pictures, I enjoyed talking to the kids, and learning from them. The children are very lucky to have Ms. Kowalczyk's as a teacher because of her experience, her travels, & her ability to teach.

Becki Posted 12 days ago

I've known Sandy only a short amount of time, but I can see how the kids are drawn to her stories and willingness to share herself with them. She tries many ways to reach her students to help them find themselves and succeed more fully.

Nancy Heingartner Posted 13 days ago

I have known Sandy for over 10 years. My experiences with her have been focused around global- education programs that I have created for K-12 teachers. Sandy is a remarkable teacher. Her passion for teaching and commitment to improving the lives of children through education have been apparent since the first time I met her. She exemplifies the model of a global citizen. Sandy is very well traveled. She is curious about the world and works to instill a similar curiosity in her students. Sandy seeks out opportunities to expose her students to authentic sources of information about other countries and cultures and to people from around the world. Teachers like Sandy Kowalczyk give me hope for the future of this country. It is people like her, who constantly go above and beyond, not concerned with the extra work they create for themselves, to prepare our children for productive lives in an increasingly globalized world.

John E Whalen Posted 13 days ago

Many years ago, I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer in the schools. I was friends with a former principal at Sandy's school, and he was looking for volunteer's for Sandy's Read 180 class. It was a perfect match for me. As I child, I was a struggling reader and now feel huge gratitude for the teacher that helped me overcome my struggles. The job was pretty simple, the kids in her class needed someone to read to one on one. These are middle school kids, and it was uncomfortable for them at first, struggling to read a loud to a total stranger. But in just a matter of weeks, their confidence was up and they were reading much better. I never knew exactly what Sandy was doing with these kids for the first four days of the week, but it must have been amazing because the progress they where making was astonishing. A new job prevented me from continuing to volunteer in Sandy's classroom, but I often think about what a great experience that was for me. It was often a very bright spot in my stressful work week. I could see first hand the transformation in kids. Kids that I knew would have struggled in life had Sandy not been able to help them.

Crystal Brandl Posted 14 days ago

I've taught with Sandy for the past 14 years. She is an inspiration to students and teachers alike. Her hard work and dedication do not go unnoticed. Year after year she is able to bring all students and faculty amazing global experiences--through exchange programs, authors, movies, and cultural and geographical experiences. Sandy is loves to immerse herself in cultural experiences; then, she is able to transform those rich experiences back into teachable moments within her school community. Sandy will also go above and beyond to help her colleagues with grant writing and other classroom collaborations. Sandy is very deserving of this award.

Shawdi Nesbit Posted 14 days ago

I had the pleasure of getting to know Sandy when she first started teaching at Patrick Marsh Middle School, and we continued to teach together for 10+ years. We had classrooms across the hall from each other for much of that time. I was always intrigued by Sandy's ability to bring global experiences into her reading intervention classes. Instead of focusing all her time on teaching remedial reading skills, she worked to find ways to make reading meaningful for her students. She found texts that aligned with students' cultural backgrounds, their lives as teenagers, and their individual interests. Ultimately, Sandy inspired me to teach literacy, and in my last couple of years in the classroom we shared reading students. Sandy showed me ways in which I could best support her students within my reading classes. Throughout this experience, I saw first hand what a strong advocate Sandy is for her students and their families. Sandy is deserving of the Life Changer award.

Mackenzie Wagner Posted 14 days ago

Although I have only known Sandra for a short while, I can already see how much support and enthusiasm she brings with her to school every day. Her students love working with her and are motivated to do their best for her. Sandra has involved herself in our school in so many ways and has been a voice for the staff here, as well as the students. She brings her outlook on the world to expand the minds and ideas of the student here at our school.

Mark Padrnos Posted 15 days ago

I have known Sandy for five years. I am a retired English teacher and substitute frequently at Patrick Marsh Middle School and have often struck up conversations with Sandy regarding her worldwide travels as an ambassador to countries and people throughout this small world. As I travel the halls of Patrick Marsh Middle, I rarely see Sandy traveling alone; she is almost always traveling with a retinue of students, students breathless to hear tales of her travels, excited to travel themselves, eager to learn about this wonderful diverse world, and to act as ambassadors of the United States. She has not only entranced myriad students with her tales of the value of international understanding, she has reinforced the values of empathy, understanding, cooperation, and international "human-hood" with these young people. As such, I have come to greet her with a hale and hearty, "Good day, Madame Ambassador!" I can think of no other educator I know who is more worthy of that title.

Tracy Widiker Posted 15 days ago

I have had the pleasure of working with Sandra for 10 years. She is passionate about literacy and her students are therefore passionate about literacy. Her love for literacy stretches across the globe and has impacted countless children, adults, and fellow educators. She is well deserving of the life changer award.

Ann Oberle Posted 16 days ago

Sandra Kowalczyk is an inspiration. Although my children did not have her as a teacher when the attend Patrick Marsh, she contributed to the schools overall reputation as an exceptional middle school. It is because of teachers like her who inspire students to learn about the world through reading. I was so glad to hear Sandra speak to the Sun Prairie Rotary club. Her goal of sharing the positive work her student do with the community is commendable. She reminded me of my mother, another exceptional reading teacher, who brought the world to her students in rural Wisconsin by bringing in authors and community members with different cultural backgrounds. Sun Prairie is lucky to have a teacher like Sandra, and I look forward to reading about her students in the local paper. I am so glad she shares their work with the community and that we can learn about the world with them.

Sue Halambeck Posted 16 days ago

Sandy's passion to bring "world awareness and vision" to her students is an inspiration! Her students are extremely fortunate to have such a dedicated educator.

Marsha A Herman Posted 16 days ago

Doing what is best for kids. That is Sandy's motivation and passion as an educator. She sees the "whole child" and works to make sure that continuous academic, social and emotional growth are part of her daily routine when working with students. Not only is Sandy passionate about her students, but she diligently supports and mentors new educators and advocates for her peers. She is a treasure to the teaching profession!

Melissa Henry Posted 18 days ago

Sandy is a co-worker of mine who puts her "heart and soul" into her discipline and the students she teaches. She has a wealth of knowledge that is evident in the literacy lessons she plans, the Go Global club she advises and the cultural experiences she continues to involve herself in! Sandy's energy is contagious and I feel she is very deserving of the Life Changer Award.

Rebecca K Murray Posted 18 days ago

I first met Sandra Kowalczyk 17 years ago when I was hired to teach at-risk students at Patrick Marsh Middle School where she served as the reading specialist. Following her example, I pursued a Masters Degree and reading specialist certification. Through the years she has always been there to share her literacy expertise, educational research, and suggest relevant professional resources to help me develop responsiveness to students unique needs. Together we served on an Adolescent Literacy Task Force and Literacy Design Team, creating and implementing culturally responsive literacy programming. Sandy’s effectiveness in inciting student curiosity, a spirit of inquiry, and a desire to read and write is based on her own interest, excitement, and enthusiasm for learning. A National Board Certified Teacher, she continually seeks out new experiences to grow professionally and to enhance the learning of students and colleagues. Sandy implemented a highly successful before-school literacy program “Breakfast with Books,” that increased academic achievement of ethnic minority and at-risk students. The program provided healthy breakfasts and promoted enthusiasm for reading by encouraging book talks among struggling readers and their peers. A hallmark of her classroom is the extensive and diverse collection of books by international authors. She infuses literature and background knowledge of many cultures and world areas into her teaching, centering on engagement and interaction and addressing the needs of ALL students. Sandy has an insatiable thirst for gaining cultural experiences, which she weaves into her own life and the lives of her students. She has a knack for obtaining sponsorship and grant funding that brings a wealth of international experiences to the community. I attended a riveting presentation by author Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. Her historical fiction, Between Shades of Gray, gave voice to the hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonians who lost their lives during Stalin's cleansing of the Baltic region. Her gripping talk prompted my students to engage in further research on this era. Sandy collaborates with individuals and groups from throughout the world, inviting them to interact with students and the community. She serves as the volunteer coordinator of homestay and school visits for a Thailand Ministry of Education program that brings a teacher and five 10-12-year-olds from throughout Thailand to Sun Prairie for 3 weeks each year. They shadow their peer hosts at school and teach the school and community about their provinces, nation, culture and people. Local and Thai families continue to maintain close contact long after they return home with reciprocal visits in the works. These and the many other transformative experiences Sandy initiated have proven her worthy of the LifeChanger of the Year Award.

William T Wambach Posted 19 days ago

Sandy is a very good speaker and shares her dozens of years traveling to other countries in order to gather information, pictures and cultural items to share with her students.

Ronald Riechers Posted 19 days ago

I like the message the students get from working together a variety of cultures.

James Ackley Posted 21 days ago

It has been nearly ten (10) years since I have directly worked with Sandy, but it is clear her work ethic and passion for reading hasn't changed. Sandy has always done a nice job bringing the world to Patrick Marsh whether it's through reading, clubs or guest speakers, Sandy has created a "world vision" for the students of Patrick Marsh. One thing I do specifically remember about Sandy was her dedication to the students she worked with in her reading classes. The time was structured and engaging. Students improved as readers and you could see their confidence grow. She had high expectations, but how lucky for her students that she did.

P. Vang Posted 21 days ago

Mrs. Kowalczyk's passion to learn and teach diversity and different cultures is very inspiring as it connects and educates our communities. She is so kind and knowledgeable that I give her my nomination.

Dineo Dowd Posted 22 days ago

Sandra is very inspirational to the student as well as the community, her passion about learning different cultures is amazing, she is going extra mile to make sure all her students feel welcome and free.she loves to share her knowledge and experience, very friendly and accommodating.

Kashmira Sheth Posted 22 days ago

Sandra is passionate about teaching and it reflects in her students. Over the years I have been fortunate to meet her many times. Sandra’s enthusiasm about literature and reading is infectious. The first time I met her was in 2005 when I visited her class as an author, and it was a deeply moving experience for me to see her interact with empathy and caring for all her students. Her influence was evident. They were inquisitive, respectful and open to people of various cultures, countries, and ethnicities. No matter where they go, her students will carry the compassion and wisdom she has instilled in them and make the world a better place. This award will be a well-deserved recognition for this excellent educator.

Tom Weber Posted 22 days ago

Simply stated, Sandra is just awesome! She is a tremendous advocate and positive influence for students. We are a community with a changing demographic that has brought many new and wonderful cultures to our community. Sandra has a tremendous influence and impact in helping students and community members, whether new or old, celebrate and appreciate the growing worldly footprint in our community.

Darlene Barth Posted 23 days ago

Sandra connects our community of diversity with her love of reading and helping our students achieve their reading goals. Her remarkable work as an interventionist is evident with the rapport she has with her students and the time she takes with each one. The way Sandra approaches reading helps her students learn to love reading and progress farther than they thought they could. She also gives opportunity for all of our students to experience other cultures through her past travel experiences and the programs she provides throughout the year. She truly deserves the LifeChanger of the Year award.

Corey Shefchik Posted 23 days ago

Sandy is a passionionate educator, sharing love of literacy and global learning. We are all more culturally literate because of Sandy’s efforts to provide a global perspective. Her students have not only learned how to be better readers and writers over the years, but have also gained a greater perspective of the world they live in. We are grateful for all you do for our school and community.

Angie Jimenez Posted 24 days ago

Sandy ignited the spark for me to try new literacy ideas in my high school Spanish classroom. Books come alive with cultural suitcases and go global research activities. Sandy not only led our in-service, but is always there with an extra nudge, when needed.

Corey Shefchik Posted 24 days ago

Sandy has dedicated her career to providing her students with a unique global literacy experience. Her students not only become better readers, they become more culturally literate and gain an appreciation for world beyond our school and local community. Sandy has also connected our whole school community to students and adults from around the world. We have all gained a greater perspective of the world because of Sandy. Thank you!

Tom Weber Posted 25 days ago

Simply stated, Sandra is just awesome! She is a tremendous advocate and positive influence for students. We are a community with a changing demographic that has brought many new and wonderful cultures to our community. Sandra has a tremendous influence and impact in helping students and community members, whether new or old, celebrate and appreciate the growing worldly footprint in our community.

Lisa Brazeau Posted 25 days ago

Sandra is an amazing educator and colleague, who brings her love of travel and world discovery to all of our students at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI. As a Reading Interventionist, her support for our challenged readers is provided through the caring relationships she develops with each individual student. Sandra is much deserving of this prestigious award.

Stacy Brzezinski Posted 25 days ago

Sandy is very passionate not only about literacy but also bringing global awareness to students. She is a valuable resource for teachers, and reaches out to students that are not a part of her interventions. She has team taught with me for many years and really does bring a lot of knowledge that helps not only the students, but also myself.

Haritha Rajula Posted 26 days ago

I had a brief encounter with Sandra at parent teacher conferences. She presented The Lights of Diwali book and invited me to see her classroom. She shared her passion to expose children to different cultures and was very enthusiastic to learn about different cultures and got to know about the go Global club .Was very much impressed talking to her seeing passion .She is amazng

Karen S. Baldwin Posted 27 days ago

Sandra has always been a positive influence at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie. She has been instrumental in making our school multicultural with many projects and clubs she has headed. She is i charge of Geography club where students have the chance to see movies about other students around the world. I think that Sandra is very deserving of this award.

Peter Casey Posted 27 days ago

I have recently begun to work as a long term substitute with 7th graders. Sandy helps wholeheartedly when it comes to helping students find their voice and expression when it comes to the materials they are choosing to read. Sandy has a warm and caring direction in how she approaches each student, but at the same time she pushes the students to achieve more then even they thought possible. I have witness Sandy directing students to books that fit their level but not by just handing the students a book and letting them read, she takes the time to learn about the things the students find interesting to them and directing them to areas of the library and various classrooms where they will find more materials to build their joy of reading. Every child needs someone like Sandy to direct or redirect him or her to finding the joy of reading which points to this award of LifeChanger, because Sandy is changing lives to create individuals who value reading and who can in turn pass this value on to others.

Steve Schroeder Posted 27 days ago

As President of the Sun Prairie Area School District Board of Education, I have the honor of interacting with many of our 750 professional educators as well as many parents and students. I cannot even begin to count the number of positive comments I have received about Sandra Kowalczyk. You can see her many accomplishments but more than that is her true and unwavering commitment to children and public education. In my opinion, she exemplifies the teaching profession. I am proud to simply be associated with her and so grateful for what she does for children in our community. EVERY child, EVERY day!

Connie Sobczak Posted 28 days ago

Sandy Kowalczyk truly deserves the LifeChanger of the Year award. I am so grateful to have had the privilege of working with Sandy for 10+ years, and witnessing firsthand her teaching style and how she always has the best interest of kids at heart in her classroom. She truly lives by the Sun Prairie Area School District' mission statement: "futures depend on us to inspire and prepare every child, every day, by providing relevant, engaging and innovative learning experiences in and out of the classroom". Sandy is a positive role model and leader. She takes the time to learn about other cultures which not only helps her relate to all students, but also teaches other staff and students how to be culturally responsive. Her passion and commitment are inspiring beyond measure!

Denise Anderson Posted 28 days ago

Sandy always connects her love of reading with her love of travel and exploring different lives and cultures, so students are inspired to read because they want to learn more, which is the best way to develop a love of reading.

Sharon Haraldson Posted 28 days ago

I have been a colleague with Sandy for the last 20 years. Sandy changes lives daily through her tools of words and experiences. The gift of a caring, guiding, influencing teacher is truly an individual characteristic only that person has to offer. Sandy has those qualities and shares with all who are given the chance to interact with her. She is exceptional.

Judith Wilkinson Posted 29 days ago

Sandy Kowalczyk and I have been colleagues for approximately twenty years. During that time I have been inspired by her devotion to her students as she shares her love of reading and works with them to improve their reading skills in every way possible. An unusual aspect of Sandy's teaching is her incorporation of geography - not simply as an aspect of the setting in a piece of literature but as real places she has traveled and from which she has returned with concrete examples of the culture of countries read about by her students. She has also spent much time and effort in bringing artists and authors to our school from the United States and other countries that she has visited so that all students have an opportunity to see and hear and learn about these people and their country, culture, and crafts. To offer further enrichment, Sandy sponsors the geography club in her school, which is open to everyone with an interest in this fascinating subject. With all her accomplishments, she enriches not only the environment of her classroom, but the environment of the entire school.

Anne Disch Posted 29 days ago

Sandy has been an incredible resource for me and the art room here at Patrick Marsh. She has shared artifacts from her global travels so that I have interesting, meaningful, and engaging examples for the students to learn from. She has helped guide my curriculum to be both culturally sensitive and aware. This is my first year teaching and she has also offered support, a listening ear, and an endless amount of positive energy to help me be a successful educator.

Yangsook Choi Posted 30 days ago

It's so exciting that Ms. Sandy Kowalczyk has been nominated! I had the privilege of meeting her in an all-day conference on international children’s and young people’s literature in Madison, Wisconsin, “Open a Door . . .Open a Book . . .Open Your Mind . . .to the World.” She is truly a life-changing educator who brings the power of reading into the hearts of young readers. I am grateful for all her heart and her hard work.

Ellen Braatz Posted 30 days ago

I had a brief encounter with Sandy at parent teacher conferences. She helped me find my way around the school and invited me to see her classroom. She shared her passion to expose children to different cultures. I left our encounter with the impression that she provides students a place where they can belong. I am grateful for teachers like Sandy.

Chris Gleason Posted 30 days ago

THIS IS THE ONE! Seriously...look at the amazing things this educator has done! I have had the privilege of working with Sandy for the past 14 years and I can tell you that she IS a life changer. Her passion and dedication to improving education for students across the country is evident by the profound work she continues to do. Clearly many educators fit the definition of life-changer. To be named "Lifechanger of the Year" to me means that you not only change lives within your classroom but make an impact on the lives of people beyond the classroom. Sandy has impacted countless lives and created leaders. I am proud to be one of those people. Sandy lit a fire in me that continues to burn. Please give Sandy your full consideration. She literally is one in a million!!

Uma Krishnaswami Posted 1 months ago

I am delighted to support Ms Kowalczyk for Lifechanger of the Year. I met her years ago (2005) when I was in Madison as part of the Read On Wisconsin Program. I am delighted to learn that she has carried on this vital work over the years, dedicating her career to literacy and social justice, and opening the eyes of young people to the wider world beyond their immediate experience. Her years of experience demonstrate an ongoing commitment to placing a wide, rich array of books in the hands of young readers. I wish you all success, Sandra Kowalczyk, teacher, reading specialist, lifechanger.

Tanuja Desai Hidier Posted 1 months ago

I would like to support Ms Kowalczyk for Lifechanger of the Year. I had the pleasure of meeting her in WI during the South Asia Book Award ceremony/events period. She is impassioned, eloquent, dedicated, warm and welcoming with many years of experience and innovation in a vital--I would say life-saving-- field, dedicating herself to amplifying mirrors and windows and what connects us through the beauty and richness of books. All things we need very much always and NOW. Thank you.

Mary Wright Posted 1 months ago

I met Sandy Kowalczyk as a colleague in her first full time Reading teacher position at Montello Junior High School, in Montello Wisconsin. Over the ten years that we worked together, Sandy not only became my friend and close colleague, but we collaborated on many highly creative projects involving engaging students in rich literacy practices in a variety of ways. Sandy did not just integrate reading, writing, speaking and listening in her curriculum, she enriched it in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways. Her classroom environment was a brilliant example of making global connections to literature. As an experienced traveler, Sandy not only brought her love of reading and literature to the class but would often use stories and artifacts from her experiences to make personal connections and bring the literature to life. Walking into her classroom students could feel the energy of other places, people and cultures. If the students read a story about African culture, for example, Sandy immersed students in experiencing the culture by carving meaningful symbols out of potatoes to stamp patterns onto hand dyed sheets using natural plant-based dyes, modeled after authentic Kente cloths. Students learned how to embroider the cloths, stitching them together. To celebrate their learning, Sandy would make African sweet potato soup with her students. Sandy and I worked together on a number of amazing projects involving the arts: dance, drama, visual art, and writing. We worked on “quilting across the curriculum”, presenting at conferences sharing unique projects: Storycloths, Ancient Egyptian Paper Quilts, Notable Women in History Quilts, and literary quilts such as Wisconsin Writers and “Our Town” quilts. Each year we would collaborate to launch an end of the year retrospective to showcase the wonderful learning our students experienced. We would celebrate Women’s History Month by engaging our students in constructing appliqued quilt squares stitched onto blankets. Forty notable women were celebrated through monologues, classroom publications featuring biographies, cinquains and images from the quilt squares. Hand drawn life size posters with cut outs allowed students to “become” the women, telling their stories on the stage for the younger elementary students in the audience. We created an interdisciplinary extravaganza when an experiment from our school was chosen to go up in space aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998. For this project, “Milestones in the History of the Space Program” students researched the space program, but also told the story of achievements in the rich context of each era. Students researched the literature of the times, the pop culture events, trends and musical styles, clothing and architecture. The final performance was put on for the elementary school as well as the community. Students worked for one month to put on this dynamic performance, dancing to popular tunes through the ages as interludes to each era. Unforgettable performances by students created indelible memories which surely stayed with these students. Skits were written and performed by students, dressed in authentic costumes and amazing props. Needless to say, the classroom work and excitement over the project spilled out into the middle school hallway. Sandy and I worked on a peace themed retrospective in which students connected the concept of peace to literature, creative writing, including original poetry and musical mandalas. Students choreographed and performed dances and videos in response to the horrors of the holocaust, reminding us that love and peace are precious and central to our humanity. We co-authored an article, "Peace by Piece: The Freeing Power of Literacy Through the Arts" which was published by the National Council of Teachers of English journal. Through all of the years I worked alongside Sandy in the middle school, each day was filled with wonder and joy. Sandy is a teacher who brings her students enthusiasm, energy, and unfailing dedication to literacy and lifelong learning each and every day. Sandy Kowalczyk is truly an amazing teacher who touches and enriches students’ lives.

Carol Hansen Posted 1 months ago

Wow! This is a teacher. It was such a privilege to meet and "unload" some of my India-collection of books on her growing library. As a former teacher myself, I have the courage to say that the key to education (in opinion) is curiosity. Sandra obviously excels there. She carries it further by using curiosity as the door to involvement (i.e., her Go Global club) and by enriching her expertise in travel, writing, etc. All this, and the most important, is LOVE -- love of learning, love of teaching, and a bursting love for children. So important. I'm glad I bumped into Sandra Kowalczyk. Keep up the good work, Sandy.

Jennifer Deuster-Loesch Posted 1 months ago

Ms. K is a super teacher. Even before my children or I knew her -- essentially when we were strangers -- she showed herself for what kind of person and educator she is and helped one of my daughters and I when we were at the school after hours. She assisted us with a smile when she did not have to and made us feel welcome. Since that first chance meeting, two of my children have participated in the Go Global Club that Ms. K facilitates. One thing that really sticks with me is that Ms. K always goes out of her way to encourage students. For example, she lent both of my older daughters geography books to help them study for the school Geography Bee and encouraged them to give it their best shot. Additionally, she remembered that my youngest daughter was interested in Egypt and sent books home for her. Further, our family has been fortunate enough to participate in the Wisconsin-Thai International Sunrise Program as hosts to three wonderful students from Thailand that we continue to stay in touch with. I am so grateful that Ms. K volunteers as a coordinator with this program and makes it possible for children in Sun Prairie to meet students from Thailand. My families' life experience is definitely richer from the experience of participating the the Sunrise Program -- you can't put a price on friendship. Thank you Ms. K!

Aryn Senger Posted 1 months ago

I've been a family friend for something like 17 years and Ms. Kowalczyk is ALWAYS excited about her work as a teacher and the current goings-on in her school and classes--and she's nearly always working on a new project, trip, or idea for getting kids excited about global themes and cultural specifics. She's kind, enthusiastic, curious, and just a fascinating and extremely knowledgeable person; I would love to have had her as a teacher!

Kerry G. Hill Posted 1 months ago

As a long-time advocate for global education in Wisconsin, I've been able to work with and get to know many teachers across the state who are connecting their students to the world in creative ways. I have come to recognize that Sandy Kowalczyk is among the most active and dedicated when it comes to promoting global awareness and engagement for students -- and she's certainly one of the few doing this at the middle school level. Her passion and commitment are inspiring. She is amazing.

Dawn Egan Posted 1 months ago

I have known Sandra Kowalczyk both in and out of the classroom for the past 20 years and continue to be impressed and amazed by this woman. The knowledge, love and passion she has for teaching, literacy, social justice and culture have all contributed to her work as the Reading Specialist at Patrick Marsh Middle School. I was fortunate to be able to work with her when I was the Reading Specialist at the middle school across town, Prairie View Middle School (now retired). We spent 20 years collaborating, presenting, attending conferences/meetings and, most of all, becoming good friends! She has always inspired me with her upbeat attitude and desire to bring the world to her students via literacy. When taking breaks from my own world adventures now that I am retired, I’ve been fortunate to remain a part of her astonishing career through her initiated school visits by authors/artists from around the world. As an adult I continue to learn and grow through meeting these gifted and diverse individuals. Ruta Sepetys, Lithuanian-American author, was an inspiration for me, when I realized how unaware I had been of the history between the Baltic regions and Russia. Ruta and the young-adult books took me back to that time in history as though I were there experiencing it myself. After meeting acclaimed folk artist and woodcarver, Armando Jimenez, from Oaxaca, Mexico, at one such school visit initiated by Ms. Kowalczyk, I actually travelled to Oaxaca and visited his woodshop/studio. Needless to say, I purchased and gifted my children/grandchildren with his wood carvings as well as a book about his carvings. What a thrill to be personally connected to the world through art and literature! That is exactly what Ms. Kowalczyk does, and her students benefit from such practices in her classroom. Not only has she changed the lives of many, many students, but anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting, working with and knowing this outstanding educator. As is evidenced by the long list of accomplishments and obvious influence she has had on so many students, teachers and colleagues, I truly believe she is a life changer! I would say she is the perfect nominee to be awarded Lifechanger of the Year!

Tiffany Xiong Posted 1 months ago

I am so excited to hear that Sandy has been nominated for this award and I support her wholeheartedly! As someone who worked alongside Sandy for several years at Patrick Marsh, I have witnessed the positive impact she has on students! Students become more confident in reading/literacy and enjoy learning in Sandy's classroom! I can tell that she truly cares about students and is dedicated to helping them improve. She also incorporates global literacy into her teaching, providing students a fun and unique learning experience. I am inspired by all that Sandy has done and continues to do and believe that she is very deserving of this award!

Sandra Kowalczyk Posted 1 months ago

Thank you Padma Venkatramen for your words of support. Your powerful books, many set in India, have brought the wider world into the lives of my students and other young readers. As you say, “Stories are ships on which we sail oceans of imagination.” https://padmavenkatraman.com/

Padma Venkatraman Posted 1 months ago

Delighted to hear that SandyKowalczyk is a #LCOY nominee - deeply impressed by her dedication, energy and enthusiasm every time I've visited her school as an author - my wholehearted support for this reading specialist and teacher

Rick Christofferson Posted 1 months ago

I first met Sandy in college. Even then she was committed to helping students to learn. She also had the curiosity about the wider world back then, and she has incorporated that into he work throughout her career. Reading is so fundamental, so critical to enabling students to learn about the world and about themselves, to learning with others and by themselves. Sandy has devoted her life and career to teaching and helping others. Sandy is worthy of this recognition as Lifechanger of the Year.

Shelley Joan Weiss Posted 2 months ago

Sandra is an impressive, award winning educator. As I write this, I am celebrating Sandra being awarded the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), Teacher of the Year Award. This is the highest honor that AMLE gives to an educator. Sandra is a reading teacher - but more importantly - she immerses her students in Global Education. Through books and international connections, Sandra introduces her Wisconsin middle level students to the cultures, customs, climates, and foods of the world. Sandra has developed powerful friendships with authors, educators, and governmental officials from countries far and wide. She brings her enthusiasm for embracing the global community to her students. Sandra's students know that as they read literature from around the world, they will learn locations and details of the countries they are reading about as well as the author's country of origin. Sandra is supporting students to develop a deep understanding of the powerful connections we need to create with our global neighbors. Students quickly learn through literature and personal contacts with authors and other international friends of Sandra's that we are more similar than different. Students who excel under Sandra's guidance will leave their school experience with a broader and deeper understanding of the "village" of the world that we are part of. Students realize that they will be changing lives with the knowledge and experience they gain while learning with Sandra. Recognizing Sandra would bring honor to your organization. She is a unique educational leader, with a powerful international background who stands out among her peers. Sandra is the epitome of a LifeChanger for numerous students over many years. Sandra Kowalczyk is most deserving of this award.

Dannelle Gay Posted 2 months ago

My daughter had a very difficult year of 6th grade and Sandy helped her immensely. While she is on the other end off the spectrum that Ms. Kowalczyk normally deals with (she started taking college classes when she was just 9-years-old) that didn't stop her from being one of “those” teachers that makes a permanent indent on a child's life. When the concept of blending college curriculum with standard 6th grade coursework failed and our 11-year-old daughter was stressed for carrying 12 college credits AND a full 6th grade course load, Sandy became a bright spot of encouragement and hope to her. We participated in the Sunrise Program that she co-ordinates and took not one, but two girls in for the three week period and that also helped our daughter feel more “normal” as well as expanding her horizons on other cultures to the point that she begged to participate in the University of Iowa's JR Scholar Institute program on Japan for the summer. Ms. Kowalczyk truly was a LifeChanger for my daughter – and many others over her many years of service. Thank you!

Ann McNeary Posted 2 months ago

I heartily support Ms. Kowalczyk's nomination! I was a volunteer tutor working with some of her sixth grade students in a reading recovery program for a number of years. These were kids reading well below grade level who faced many life challenges. Ms. Kowalczyk provided a wide range of reading materials and a number of in class and after school opportunities to learn about other cultures and countries. Her students loved playing an interactive geography game which allowed them to learn and become more aware (and have fun!). She was always on the lookout for a new book or new experience to engage her students and help them succeed. I can't imagine the number of lives she has positively influenced over the years. She is an inspiration and certainly deserving of this award!

Sandra Kowalczyk Posted 2 months ago

Thank you, Laura Resau, for your generous praise. Your books centering on Hispanic, immigration, and indigenous peoples themes, The Lightning Queen, The Queen of Water, Red Glass, What the Moon Saw, and Star in the Forest, make my students want to keep on reading. We are so looking forward to the release of Tree of Dreams.

Laura Resau Posted 2 months ago

Sandra is a phenomenal and inspiring educator! She's fostered a deep love of reading in her students, and helped them feel connected to each other and cultures around the world. I feel enormously grateful to teachers like Sandra who create such a compassionate and engaging environment in their classrooms. Every student she's ever had will carry this wisdom, curiosity, and empathy into the world and make it a better place for all of us! Thank you, Sandra!!!

Hannah Posted 2 months ago

I can't think of anyone more deserving. A love of learning and literature can change the entire pathway of one's life. People pass on this love and the domino effect creates a happy, informed population.